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Music and Literature in Silver Age Russia

Mikhail Kuzmin and Alexander Scriabin


Brad M. Damaré

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
(Slavic Languages and Literatures)
in The University of Michigan

Doctoral Committee:

Associate Professor Michael Makin, Chair
Professor Andrew W. Mead
Professor Jindrich Toman
Associate Professor Herbert J. Eagle

© Brad M. Damaré


To my grandfather, who instilled in me a deep love of classical music.



This dissertation could not have been written without the support and patience
of a number of individuals.
First among them is the excellent committee who guided this work to
completion. Throughout this process Michael Makin provided me with reams of
helpful commentary, and gave me a deserved drubbing whenever drafts and chapters
did not appear by the agreed deadlines. My writing pace would not have been
possible without Herbert J. Eagle’s idea to meet regularly, where he provided me with
a wealth of comments on submitted drafts. The conversations I had over coffee with
Andrew Mead were invaluable for helping me shape my arguments, as were Jindrich
Toman’s keen insights on style and organization.
I owe a special debt of thanks to Boris Kats of the European University at St.
Petersburg, since he is in many ways responsible for the earliest germ of this
dissertation. My initial inquiries into Scriabin’s poetry began as part of an
independent study with Dr. Kats during his semester at the University of Michigan,
and his course on music in Russian literature was the original prompt for my own
Sections of two of these chapters appeared in presentations, and in the course
of the discussions that followed I received especially valuable feedback from Lada
Panova and Alexander Zholkovsky at the University of Southern California. At


USC’s Kuzmin Conference I also had the pleasure of informative conversations about
Kuzmin’s song settings with Mitchell Morris of UCLA and John Barnstead of
Dalhousie University. Marcus Levitt of USC was kind enough to provide me with
recordings of their performance of The Alexandrian Songs, and Roland J. Wiley gave
me good advice about approaching Scriabin at the earliest stage of this work.
Many of my friends and colleagues, including Vadim Besprozvany, Sergei
Sychov, Marina Madorskaya, and Matthew Davis, have provided equally useful
insights along the way. Two in particular deserve special acknowledgement: Mila
Shevchenko, who helped me with early drafts of the chapters and painstakingly went
through every line of poetry with me to transcribe the poetic stresses correctly; and
Rebecca Schwartz-Bishir, who gave me careful insight related to my arguments about
music, as well as lent an editor’s eye to my early drafts.
I would like to thank the University of Michigan for providing me with the
Rackham One-Term Dissertation Fellowship, which proved invaluable in the final
stages of writing and editing this work. I also owe a great debt to the Slavic
Department’s administrative staff, especially Sarah Hallum and Amanda Apostol, for
saving me during the kind of technology-related crises that usually accompany this
kind of work.
And finally, a special thanks to my long-suffering fiancé Russ Sommer, who
dealt patiently with my insomniac’s schedule and coffee addiction through the
completion of this dissertation.



This dissertation will be an interdisciplinary study focusing on two sets of
works: Mikhail Kuzmin’s poetic cycle Alexandrian Songs, the accompanying musical
settings, and the novel Wings, which prominently features one of the songs; and
Alexander Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and the 5
Piano Sonata, which includes a
stanza of the poem as its epigraph. In both cases, the artists’ attempts to merge music
and literature into a type of syncretic project led to the creation of poems that were, in
the Russian context, unprecedented in their free use of meter and rhythm. In order to
understand these artists’ compositional strategies, this dissertation will take these
works apart to reveal their formal qualities, chart the relationships between deep
structures across media boundaries, then situate that analysis against the context of the
works’ composition.
Though the relationship of music and literature was a focal point in early 20

century Russian art, there have been few studies to address both, in large part because
of the difficulty of translating concepts from one medium to the other. Theorists like
Roman Jakobson and Boris Gasparov have written on the musical qualities of some
literature, and Boris Kats has written on the translation of musical forms into literary
forms, but serious study of relationships between music and literature remains rare.
As a way of narrowing down a potentially large topic, this dissertation will focus
primarily on the two works of poetry, since the challenges of echoing or


supplementing music led both artists to experiment with poetic form, meter, and
rhythm in ways that had no precedent in Russian literature. Both works are rich with
still unexplored questions:
In The Poem of Ecstasy, what deep structural elements led the composer to
consider it synonymous with his Fourth Symphony? How does he translate ideas of
rhythm and meter into a medium that approaches both concepts in a markedly
different way? Is there a relationship between the philosophical syncretism in the
subject matter and the particular way Scriabin attempts to combine the arts? Do the
original context and function of the lines from Ecstasy used as the Fifth Sonata’s
epigraph lead to a reading of the sonata that requires knowledge of the poem?
In The Alexandrian Songs, how does Kuzmin design lines that are both “free”,
and yet lend themselves to rhythmic melodies? How does Kuzmin see the
symmetries, the patterns, and the overall structure? Furthermore, if Kuzmin has a
particular set of strategies for writing free verse that easily accommodates music, do
the poems he did not set to music bear the same qualities, or do the twelve he selected
for song setting differ from the rest in the way they were composed? Does Kuzmin’s
position outside the cultural zeitgeist find expression in the works’ unconventional
These are some of the questions that this dissertation will address. Though the
works involved are greatly different, a similar methodology governs the analysis in
both cases. This dissertation will strive
1. To “take stock” of the materials by analyzing each poem’s constituent parts,
including rhythm and meter, phonology, syntax, etc.;


2. To interpret these findings against the background of the music that
accompanied/inspired them; to reach a better understanding of the relationship
between the words and the music; and to ascertain the aesthetic strategy that
the works share in common; and
3. To interpret these findings against the background of the works’
composition as well as their social, political, and intellectual environment.

Representatives of the two extremes of the Silver Age, the apocalyptic
fantasies of Scriabin and the lyrical detachment of Kuzmin offer a parallax view of
Russia’s most complex and artistically rich period. Both sets of texts were written
during 1905, and while neither mentions the revolution by name, both are informed by
related strains in the art world which arose in this turbulent period: Kuzmin by a
disaffected attitude towards established social norms, and Scriabin by an apocalyptic
mysticism. In fact Kuzmin’s novel, the world’s first with an explicitly and
unapologetically homosexual theme, was only publishable because of the sudden
relaxation of censorship standards during the 1905 revolution, while Scriabin’s music
was used by prominent poets as the model for the revolutionary spirit. Both artists
were eventually banned under the Soviet regime, and as a result, both artists are
As a way of contributing to the growing amount of scholarship on these two
artists, the dissertation will focus on the way these sets of works articulate notions
about syncretism during the Silver Age. This will not only bring back into focus


neglected works from the early modernist period, but also seek to establish a
methodology for future studies of works that combine music and literature.


Table of Contents

Dedication. ..................................................................................................................... ii
Acknowledgements....................................................................................................... iii
Preface............................................................................................................................ v
List of Figures ................................................................................................................ x
List of Tables ................................................................................................................ xi
List of Appendices ....................................................................................................... xii
Abstract ....................................................................................................................... xiii
Chapter I. The Many Meanings of “Music” .................................................................. 1
The German Heritage of Symbolism......................................................................... 4
The French Heritage of Symbolism......................................................................... 12
Native Developments............................................................................................... 22
The Symbolist Poets of Russia................................................................................. 27
Music in Silver Age Russia...................................................................................... 36
The Overlooked........................................................................................................ 40
Chapter II. Methodological Concerns.......................................................................... 47
Assessing the Relationship....................................................................................... 48
Different Routes to Analysis.................................................................................... 57
Chapter III. Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy ...................................................................... 70
Large-Scale Structure in the Poem........................................................................... 76
Compositional Blocks .............................................................................................. 80
Section A, and the poetics of evolution ................................................................... 84
Line 18, and the poetics of stasis ............................................................................. 98
Chapter IV. Kuzmin’s Alexandrian Songs................................................................. 109
Background and Influences.................................................................................... 111
Poetic and Musical Organization ........................................................................... 121
Formal Tensions..................................................................................................... 129
Conclusion ................................................................................................................. 144
Appendices................................................................................................................. 150
Bibliography............................................................................................................... 176


List of Figures

Figure 1.1 - Bely's summary of other theories ............................................................ 34
Figure 1.2 - Bely's theory of music and art ................................................................. 35
Figure 3.1 - Sonata 5, measures 120-121; 124-125 ..................................................... 88
Figure 3.2 - measures 129-134..................................................................................... 89
Figure 3.3 - measures 136-137..................................................................................... 90
Figure 3.4 - shift from A to A′ ..................................................................................... 94
Figure 3.5 - shift from Exposition to Recapitulation ................................................... 95
Figure 3.6 - Transpositions of the Primary Theme ...................................................... 96
Figure 3.7 - tritone equivalence ................................................................................. 101
Figure 3.8 - Opening measures of the “Poème languide”, op. 30 no. 3. .................... 102
Figure 3.9 - measures 106-107................................................................................... 103
Figure 4.1 - conclusion of "Вечерний сумрак" (mm 25-32) .................................... 128
Figure 4.2 - “Когда мне говорят ‘Александрия’” mm 9-11 ................................... 129
Figure 4.3 - two settings of "глаза" ........................................................................... 131
Figure 4.4 - two examples of the descending triplet figure........................................ 132
Figure 4.5 - “Если б я был”: codas ........................................................................... 134
Figure 4.6 - “Если б я был”, coda to stanza 3 (mm 34-37)....................................... 136


List of Tables

Table 1.1 - Schopenhauer's hierarchy of musical voices ............................................... 7
Table 3.1 - Structure of the poem's A section.............................................................. 86
Table 3.2 - Comparison of the poetic and musical structures...................................... 91
Table 3.3 - Root movement in the Sonata.................................................................... 95
Table 4.1 - Divisions of "Сладко умереть" .............................................................. 122
Table 4.2 - Syllable apportioning in "Вечерний сумрак"......................................... 125
Table 4.3 - Division of material by stress position .................................................... 126


List of Appendices

Appendix A - Scriabin's plan for the "Poème Orgiaque"........................................... 151
Appendix B - The Poem of Ecstasy. Full text. ........................................................... 153
Appendix C - Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy by section................................................. 163
Appendix D - Full scansion of the A section of Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy............. 165
Appendix E - Full text of those Alexandrian Songs set to music............................... 166
Appendix F - Full text of "Three times I saw him".................................................... 174



My dissertation explores the relationships between poetry and music in the
works of two early-twentieth century Russian artists, the poet Mikhail Kuzmin (1872-
1936) and the composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). The development of
musical thought in Russian literature, in particular the heritage of German philosophy
and French Symbolist poetry, led to a privileging of music as the supreme art in the
early 20
century. However, very few writers at the time had a background in the
technical aspects of music. Two contemporary conservatory-trained artists worked in
both music and poetry, and their attempts to merge music and literature into a type of
syncretic project led to the creation of poems that were, in the Russian context,
unprecedented in their use of new meters and free verse. Scriabin’s poetic Poem of
Ecstasy reveals an ur-structure that provides insight into the compositional framework
of his related 5
Sonata. Meanwhile Kuzmin’s songs take on new meaning when the
clashes between poetic form and musical form are explored. Though greatly
dissimilar in philosophy and approach, both artists found ways to incorporate their
musical training into the writing of poetry in a way that both reflects and challenges
the expectations of musico-poetics during the Silver Age.


Chapter I
The Many Meanings of “Music”

“In the beginning, there was music,” wrote Alexander Blok in a 1919 diary
, although, in a paradox not atypical for this period, Blok was the writer of his
generation both least interested in music and considered to have the best ear for it.

Blok’s statement about music was not unique among his peers. Russia in the
early twentieth century saw one of its most fertile periods of artistic creation, and with
the arrival of the Symbolist movement from abroad, philosophers, writers, and critics
alike elevated music to the supreme position in their hierarchies of art. At the same
time, the actual musical scene in Russia was undergoing a relatively infertile period, a
trough between the crests of the Romantics on one side, and the Modernists to come on
the other. As a result, the actual interplay between the two media was far less than
might be expected, given the reams of critical and theoretical work devoted to them.
Somehow, the few attempts to explore the deeper relationships between the two
media managed to avoid attracting much attention. Mikhail Kuzmin, a conservatory-
trained composer who published his first works of poetry and prose in 1905, worked in
both media with some proficiency, yet his groundbreaking free-verse songs collected
under the title Alexandrian Songs (Александрийские песни) earned him his first

“Вначале была музыка”, Blok, Dnevnik, 21 March 1919

See for example Sophie Bonneau’s discussion in L’univers poètique d’Alexandre Blok, p. 43

publication, some positive criticism, and not much else. Meanwhile, the period’s
artistic idol Alexander Scriabin tried to transform Symbolist-era philosophy and the
complex rhythms of his music into poetic form, but received no positive feedback
outside his most ardent admirers.
Both cases were missed opportunities. Kuzmin had freed Russian verse from
its syllabotonic heritage, allowing the language to explore intonational patterns and
giving it access to vers libre. Scriabin had shown that philosophical content could be
expressed in formal qualities like rhythm and meter, allowing both a greater flexibility
in their relationship to overall structure. In the works of both artists, the key to
accessing these innovations was music.
How could the work of composers interested in poetry go undervalued, given
the strong emphasis on music during this period? For one thing, the very notion of
“music” in the Symbolist era meant many things to many different people. For that
reason, the first chapter of this dissertation will explore the relevant history of musical
thought in poetry and philosophy, with attention to the particular strains of influence
and divergence of opinion.
Among the difficulties in discussing the development of theories of music in
literature is the overlapping use of different meanings of “music”. At times an author
may have more than one in mind, but as these meanings involve different phenomena
altogether, the extent to which they are freely interchanged has further muddled an
already difficult topic. Roughly speaking, the most common uses of the word “music”
can be grouped into three categories:

1. Music as an artistic medium, or music proper. Though in some ways
the most basic understanding of music – the organization of sounds in such as
way as to elicit an artistic response – this use of the word “music” was often the
last one on the minds of poets and philosophers. No greater evidence of this
need be noted than the relative lack of examples in many of the works which
will be discussed: music is often invoked, but without reference to any
particular pieces of music.
2. Music as a metaphor for the euphonic qualities of poetry, or
“musicality”. Since many of the artists under discussion are poets, it should be
no surprise that their notion of music is really one of sound-quality in a poem;
where auditory properties of poetry may or may not overlap with music proper
is rarely discussed, though the focus on lyric poetry implies that poets treat
“musicality” predominantly as a consonant, melodic phenomenon. In short,
“music” here refers to poetry that flows smoothly and “sounds good.”
3. Music as an abstract form of understanding, a harmonizing of
elements that transcends any specific genre. This notion of music stretches as
far back as Plato, and was most significantly resurrected by Schopenhauer: a
capital-M Music that refers not to any concrete musical product, but to a way of
thinking about the world.

The confusion of meanings also comes from an extensive and often inexact
overlap of terminology from the two media. Seeking to avoid this in his work The
Substance of Verse (Материя стиха), Efim Etkind begins his chapter on music and
poetry with an overview of overlapping terminology, including both terms that have

drifted from poetry to music (phrases, syntax, iambic form, etc.) and those that have
followed the reverse path (dissonance, melody, cadence, etc.).

A full survey of all the influences of music on Symbolist poetics is far beyond
the scope of this chapter, even of this dissertation. Instead, this chapter will touch upon
those poets, philosophers, and composers whose influence was particularly strong in
turn-of-the-century Russia in order to explain why the heritage of the Silver Age led to
a simultaneous idealization and dismissal of music by the leading poets and
Even this narrow focus requires an examination of a span of over a hundred
years in multiple countries and languages. Two major currents intersected in the 19

century, bringing both a philosophical and an aesthetic edge to the theories that
resulted. The first came from Germany, with Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche
dominating the discourse among second generation Russian Symbolists. The second
came from France, where the poetry of Poe (appreciated more in France and in
translation than in his home country), Baudelaire, and Verlaine provided the
philosophical backbone with a new aesthetic – Symbolism – to develop the relationship
between music and art.

The German Heritage of Symbolism

The author who provided Symbolist theories of music with their most
fundamental philosophical backbone was Arthur Schopenhauer, whose World as Will

Etkind, p. 368

placed music not only as the supreme art, but as one that transcends even the label
“art”. According to Schopenhauer, the material world is a reflection of the Will, and
the rest of the arts – poetry, sculpture, painting – are themselves products of that
material world. Music, on the other hand, is a direct reflection of the Will, which
places it in a unique category:
Music also… is entirely independent of the phenomenal world, ignores it
altogether, could to a certain extent exist if there was no world at all, which
cannot be said of the other arts. Music is as direct an objectification and copy
of the whole will as the world itself, nay, even as the Ideas, whose multiplied
manifestation constitutes the world of individual things. Music is thus by no
means like the other arts, the copy of the Ideas, but the copy of the will itself,
whose objectivity the Ideas are.

One may wonder how music could exist without the world, but this is a natural
extension of Schopenhauer’s belief that, just as the will exists independently of and
creates the world of phenomena, so the reflection of will (music) must exist
independently of and create the world of phenomena. In essence, everything is music,
although Schopenhauer’s vision of music lies clearly in the realm of the capital-M
abstract form. In what will become a typical approach to writing about music,
Schopenhauer provides no examples or references to the actual medium.
For future poets, the danger of a too-close adherence to Schopenhauer’s view of
art lay in his weak justification for poetry’s place in that hierarchy of the arts – this
tension between the elevation of music and the simultaneous justification of poetry will
appear again and again. Schopenhauer becomes especially problematic because his
hierarchy clearly places poetry as an inferior art; in fact, he writes negatively of opera
that seeks to bring music into the same realm as either the words or the action: “[I]f

Schopenhauer, v.I, p. 333

music is too closely united to the words, and tries to form itself according to the events,
it is striving to speak a language which is not its own.”
In a rare example taken from
the real world, Schopenhauer lauds Rossini for being the composer who most
consistently avoids this temptation, precisely because – in Schopenhauer’s mind – the
words in Rossini’s opera are of secondary importance to the music.

Even writers and composers who had not read Schopenhauer were aware of his
privileging of music among the arts, a hierarchization that functioned as philosophical
backbone to much of aesthetic philosophy that followed. As Lydia Goehr notes, the
German’s renown was so great that his name was common enough talk even by
composers like Rimsky-Korsakov and Prokofiev, “[who] were able to converse about
and even to quote Schopenhauer with a kind of ease that typifies ‘cocktail party
knowledge’ – a kind of knowledge for which serious engagement with the
philosopher’s writings is not required.”

Of added importance for the Symbolists were Schopenhauer’s ideas about the
organization of the world according to musical terms, specifically those of four-part
harmony. Using this division of voices, he developed a metaphorical scheme for
understanding the organization of the physical universe:

Ibid., p. 338

Schopenhauer’s rare uses of examples merit a study in themselves. He disdains any music that relies
on imitative sound effects (Haydn’s Creation and The Seasons come under his censure) and he derives a
set of concrete emotional expectations for different musical phenomena: what to expect of an Andante,
of a minor key, etc. At his boldest, Schopenhauer attempts to link culture at-large to the expected
emotional effects of its music: “With northern nations, whose life is subject to hard conditions,
especially with the Russians, the minor prevails, even in church music. Allegro in the minor is very
common in French music, and is characteristic of it; it is as if one danced while one’s shoe pinched.”
Schopenhauer, v.III, p. 244

Goehr, p. 214


Table 1.1 - Schopenhauer's hierarchy of musical voices

“Melody” (Soprano) The intellectual life and effort of man
Alto The world of plants and beasts
Tenor Manifold phenomenal things
Bass Unorganized nature

The influence of Schopenhauer on the thought of Russian Symbolists, even if
one ignores the extent to which they quote him as an authority on matters of
philosophy, can be felt in various hierarchies and schemes that those artists develop;
that is, Schopenhauer’s contribution is not only one of substance but also of
methodology. Bely’s hierarchy of the arts, which he included in a letter to Alexander

references and modifies Schopenhauer’s hierarchy, while Scriabin’s notebooks
are full of these one-to-one schemes attempting to develop the relationships between
art, philosophy, and the world of phenomena.
However, Schopenhauer’s influence pales alongside that of one of his
compatriots and contemporaries: no figure stands more central to the aesthetics of the
late Romantic and Modernist periods than Richard Wagner. In his book Opera and
Music, Wagner attempted to create a synthetic theory of the arts. His notion of
gesamtkunstwerk, the “total” art that combines drama, music, and visual art into Opera,
helped give an aesthetic justification, rather than a strictly philosophical justification,
for future attempts at fusing the arts.
More importantly, Wagner gave his theories a concrete expression, even in the
arena of language. In contrast to Schopenhauer, Wagner sought to rescue the other arts

Schopenhauer, v.I, p. 334

See Figure 1.2 below

from the dominance of music in opera, which in his mind had led to a dramatic stasis
due to composers’ failing to use compelling material. Wagner extended this criticism
not just to the quality of the plots, but also to the writing, developing ways to integrate
language more organically into his work. His theory of tone speech attempted to
separate the meaning of words from the aesthetic qualities of their sounds, arguing for
a greater focus on the latter as a path both to musicality and to true meaning:
The primal organ-of-utterance of the inner man, however, is Tone Speech…
and this we can call before us at any moment, – as far as its substance goes, –
by removing from our Word-speech its dumb articulations and leaving nothing
but the open sounds. In these vowels, if we think of them as stripped of their
consonants, and picture to ourselves the manifold and vivid play of inner
feelings, with all their range of joy and sorrow, as given-out in them alone, we
shall obtain an image of man’s first emotional language; a language in which
the stirred and high-strung Feeling could certainly express itself through
nothing but a joinery of ringing tones, which altogether of itself must take the
form of Melody.

Significantly Wagner downplays the role of semantics in language, focusing
instead on the emotive quality of certain sounds. A word’s expressivity rather than its
denotation conveys a primal “meaning”, which places speech on the same level as
music provided its expressive content is foregrounded. In addition, the influence of
Wagner’s focus on the vowels as pure expression of inner emotions can be felt in
Symbolist attempts to link vowel sounds concretely with moods and timbres, from
René Ghil’s famous treatise to Bely’s essays.
Wagner’s influence was felt throughout Europe: one of his strongest champions
was Charles Baudelaire, assuring a Wagnerian strain even in the French Symbolist
movement. Unlike the other influences discussed in this chapter, Wagner had actually
visited Russia, giving concerts in St. Petersburg in the early 1860s. However, with the

Wagner, OD, p. 225

exception of his friend and champion Serov, the reception was cool and his influence
on the local music scene downplayed.
In some respects this was due to the robust
nationalistic project among native composers, which in turn created a backlash against
the strong Germanic tradition in European art music. In Russia, Wagner’s primary
champions would be poets and philosophers, not composers.
For Russian Symbolists, Wagner is doubly important as the only of these
German influences to combine his theories with a markedly Christian ideology. In
Opera and Drama Wagner celebrates his art as the reflection of his religious
convictions, combining them with Classical tradition in the form of the god of music:
“Let us therefore erect the altar of the future, in Life as in the living Art, to the two
sublimest teachers of mankind: – Jesus, who suffered for all men; and Apollo, who
raised them to their joyous dignity!”
In a later essay, Wagner would expand his
convictions to include Eastern religions, a point not insignificant for the only major
Wagnerite composer in Russia, Alexander Scriabin: “The two sublimest of religions,
Brahmanism with its offshoot Buddhism, and Christianity, teach alienation from the
world and its passions, thus steering straight against the flow of the world-tide without
being able in truth to stem it.”
Scriabin’s later philosophy included Blavatsky-
inspired flirtation with Brahmanism and mysticism, although hardly a trace of
Christianity exists in his writings.

Rimsky-Korsakov in particular had stinging words for Wagner’s debut in Russia. See below, “Music
in the Silver Age”

Wagner, OD v. 1, p. 65

Wagner, “Religion and Art”, p. 225

Despite his enormous influence as a composer and the attractiveness of his
Christian strain, Wagner’s work had some shortcomings for a theoretician of music.
His strengths as a composer and theorist were not reflected in a particularly strong
body of writing, especially since Opera and Drama was so thickly interwoven with
off-topic, anti-Semitic screeds. Significantly, many Symbolists invoked Wagner’s
name without quoting from Wagner
, while the actual words of his compatriots
enjoyed more exposure. Fortunately for the development of Symbolism, a more
compelling shape to Wagner’s theories came later, through the early works of his
sometimes-friend Freidrich Nietzsche.
Though later disavowed by the author as an early, weak work, Nietzsche’s The
Birth of Tragedy was nonetheless instrumental in transmitting Wagner’s theories in a
more engaging, literate way. Where Wagner had spoken of the Christian power of
death and transfiguration, Nietzsche expanded the theme of death into a whole history
of ancient art, recasting the struggle between rational and irrational as twin currents in
ancient Greek culture: the calm Apollonian and wild Dionysian.
Nietzsche associates music with the latter, implicitly opposing music to rational
clarity. Fortunately for future poets, he also rescues and elevates lyric poetry, “the
imitative fulguration of music in images and concepts”. He recognizes the difficulty of
transferring the ineffable to mere words, and asks “as what does music appear in the
mirror of images and concepts?”
For Nietzsche, the answer is not an issue of

Although this may have been due, to some extent, to the lack of translated works by Wagner until
1906. Most people were familiar with Wagner through either his music or Nietzsche’s writings. (see
Symbolism and After, p16)

Nietzsche, BT, p. 55

aesthetics, but of philosophy: the poet views Dionysian music through the lens of
Apollonian contemplation.
Seeking an authority from the world of poetry, Nietzsche quotes Schiller: “With
me the perception has at first no clear and definite object; this is formed later. A
certain musical mood comes first, and the poetical idea only follows later.”
But this
transference or translation of musical mood (whatever that might mean) into a poetical
idea requires a new approach to aesthetics: Symbolism is necessary because “language,
as the organ and symbol of phenomena, can never by any means disclose the innermost
heart of music; language, in its attempt to imitate it, can only be in superficial contact
with music.”
Here again is the fundamental problem Schopenhauer raised,
reformulated for a new generation: music expresses pure mood but lacks the ability to
transmit concrete content, while language can only approximate the purity of musical
Later in his life Nietzsche disavowed Wagner, although in doing so he
unintentionally pointed to some of Wagner’s most important accomplishments:
Wagner was not a musician by instinct. He showed this by abandoning all
lawfulness and, more precisely, all style in music in order to turn it into what he
required, theatrical rhetoric, a means of expression, of underscoring gestures, of
suggestion, of the psychologically picturesque. Here we may consider Wagner
an inventor and innovator of the first rank – he has increased music’s capacity
for language to the point of making it immeasurable: he is the Victor Hugo of
music as language.

What Nietzsche here considers a failing was a necessary development towards
the breakdown of traditional harmony, an expansion of the language that made possible

Ibid., p. 49

Ibid., pp. 55-6

Nietzsche, “The Case of Wagner”, p. 629

the innovations of Debussy, Scriabin, and Stravinsky. However this particular side of
Wagner’s art had little impact on the writers and philosophers who had little access to
the technical achievements of Wagnerian harmony.
Meanwhile, Nietzsche’s own adoption in Russia was complicated by his anti-
Christian stances. His primary champion, the philosopher-poet Dmitri Merezhovsky,
had a long and constantly shifting relationship to Nietzsche’s works that ranged from
repulsion to elevation as an ideal, although never without Merezhovsky’s strongly
religious bent. As Bernice Rosenthal stresses in “Nietzsche in Russia: the case of
Merezhovsky”, “Russian symbolism derived from many sources … But Nietzsche was
most important. His philosophy gave Russian symbolism its fighting edge; it enabled
his admirers to fuse a medley of attitudes into a militant creed.”
That Nietzsche
places Music as the representation of Dionysian art helps explain its elevated, if not
idealized, status among Russian symbolists.

The French Heritage of Symbolism

The French influence on Russian Symbolism did not exist independently of the
German – in fact, it was itself under the pronounced influence of Wagner that French
Symbolism developed – but it added a different dimension to the development of
musico-poetics that justifies its discussion as a discrete line of influence. If the
Germans provided the philosophical and religious frameworks for the discussion of
music in the Russian Silver Age, then the French provided the key elements that
allowed for the development of an artistic product in Russia: an aesthetic called

Rosenthal, p. 431

“Symbolism” and a heritage of poetic works that gave practical, concrete examples of
how music could influence the production of poetry. Even when imitation and
discussion of Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche were at their peak, and the
Parnassianism of the French school was most hotly rejected, two observations about art
most commonly repeated by Russian Symbolists came from Baudelaire and Verlaine.
However, the roots of French symbolist poetry stretch back to non-native
sources, as well. Most importantly, the poetry and criticism of Edgar Allen Poe met
with mixed reactions in his home country, but were enthusiastically adopted and
propagated by Baudelaire, and through him reached future generations of Symbolist
Poe’s great breadth as a writer assured him a broader audience than any of the
other writers discussed in this chapter. “The Philosophy of Composition” appeared in
1878 with an introduction by S. A. Andreevsky, and the first translation of his collected
works appeared in Russia in 1885. Bal’mont and Briusov both translated his works,
and a September 1897 article in Russian Herald, “The Progenitor of Symbolism Edgar
Poe” (“Родоначальник символизма Эдгар По”), established the connection of Poe to
the Symbolist movement.

For the Symbolists, Poe was a member of their literary movement despite
belonging to an earlier generation. Even a non-Symbolist like Kuzmin noted, in his
diary, “I’m reading Poe, convinced of his commonality with Wilde and the French
Romantics. But he both anticipates them and is beyond them.”

Grossman, Poe, p. 79

“Читаю По, убеждаясь в его общности с Уайлдом и с французскими романтиками. Но он
предвосхищает и позднейшее.” Kuzmin, Dnevnik, p. 386

Poe’s influence on the musical sensibilities of the Symbolists involves, to
differing degrees depending on the poet in question, four sets of phenomena: an
aesthetics centered around ambiguity, a notion of art as spiritually transcendent
(whether in line with Truth or not), a superficial musicality in verse based on sound
texture, and an analytical approach to constructing and dissecting art. The first of these,
ambiguity, Poe associated explicitly with music in his theoretical writings:
I know that indefinitiveness is an element of the true music – I mean of the true
musical expression. Give to it any undue decision – imbue it with any very
determinate tone – and you deprive it at once of its ethereal, its ideal, its
intrinsic and essential character. You dissolve the atmosphere of the mystic
upon which it floats. You exhaust it of its breath of fäery.

Poe continues the tradition of writers on musicality by failing to provide any
examples, least of all an explanation of what an indeterminate tone might be. On the
other hand, this language makes for a convenient fit with Schopenhauer’s philosophy,
although Poe’s formulation is more abstract.
This quality of “indefinitiveness” Poe sought to encourage in poetry, as well –
although the direct connection to a poetic aesthetic focuses on ambiguity of meaning
rather than any purely artistic methods. In Poe’s formulation, ambiguity of meaning in
poetry is the most direct link between writing and music, since both encourage a
different, “spiritual” appreciation of art. In his analysis of Tennyson’s “Lady of
Shalott”, Poe elevates this spiritual appreciation above other forms of artistic creation:
If the author did not deliberately propose to himself a suggestive
indefinitiveness of meaning with the view of bringing about a definitiveness of
vague and therefore of spiritual effect – this, at least, arose from the silent

Poe, Marginalia, p. 1045

analytical promptings of that poetic genius which, in its supreme development,
embodies all orders of intellectual capacity.

In this sense Poe solves the problem posed by Schopenhauer: the word can
achieve something like the expressivity of music by blurring its connection to concrete
meaning and allowing its appreciation on less direct terms. Here is one of the key
moments in the development of Symbolism: a justification for the detachment of the
word from its semantic meaning.
Poe also establishes a specific link between poetry and music on the level of
technique. In his essay “The Poetic Principle”, he not only defines rhythm as the
essence of poetry, but in a statement more in line with French than Russian Symbolism
(and somewhat at odds with his other statements about the spiritual nature of the
artistic experience), he excludes beauty from the realm of truth altogether:
I would define, in brief, the Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of
Beauty. Its sole arbiter is Taste. With the Intellect or with the Conscience it
has only collateral relations. Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever
either with Duty or with Truth.

Poe’s contribution differs from that of any of the Germans discussed in that he
provides practical examples of how to achieve the effects he discusses, at least in the
realm of poetry. On one level, this leads Poe to verse experiments like “The Bells”, in
which repetition at all levels – sound, word, phrase – allegedly creates a certain
melodiousness in the lines. Onomatopoeia, like imitative music, carries the dual
function of both representation and illustration; in this way the poetry of Poe could
reconcile the Wagnerian split between meaning and expressivity. In this respect, Poe’s

Ibid., p. 1045

Poe, “The Poetic Principle”, p. 1027

primary follower among Russians was Konstantin Bal’mont, who foregrounded the
expressive quality of words to a much greater degree than his contemporaries.
For future writers who wanted to translate the abstract theories of Schopenhauer
or Nietzsche into actual poetic output, Poe provided one of the first models, even
though his analytical approach to creating poems (as in his description of writing The
Raven in “The Philosophy of Composition”) lay far from the techniques of most of the
poets he influenced. As Baudelaire later wrote of Poe, “Chance and the
incomprehensible were his two great enemies. We should not forget that his genius, as
ardent and as agile as it was, was passionately excited by analysis, combinations, and
In this particular area, Poe’s primary poetic descendents are René Ghil
and Andrei Bely.
Though the mysterious personality of Poe was equally responsible for his
popularity abroad, strictly speaking this side of Poe was as much a construction of
Baudelaire as actual biography. Baudelaire was fascinated by the celebration of the
grotesque that he found in Poe’s work, and was stupefied that such a celebration could
exist alongside a rigorous, analytical approach to art. That Baudelaire was less
interested in music than later Symbolists is perhaps a reflection of this, as well.
Though Baudelaire’s development of synesthesia as a poetic trope would become the
cornerstone for Symbolist poetics, his focus lay with the visual arts above all. This lent
his poetry a more concrete tone, and Poe’s “breath of fäery” becomes rendered in
specific, descriptive terms. Peter Wetherill notes, in his book on the two poets, “If

“Le hasard et l’incompréhensible étaient ses deux grands ennemis… Il faille ne pas oublier que son
génie, si ardent et si agile qu’il fût, était passionnément épris d’analyse, de combinaisons et de calculs.”
Baudelaire, p.153

Poe’s power of abstraction is undoubtedly superior to Baudelaire’s, his aesthetic
competence is less sure. Baudelaire has a sense of plasticity and color that Poe did not
at all possess to the same degree.”

Despite all this, Baudelaire’s work is more musical in the sense of poetic
fluidity than Poe’s, although Baudelaire’s lip service to the muse of music was less
important than his famous formulation in “Correspondances”: “le forêt de symboles”.
In the poem, Baudelaire juxtaposes different sensory phenomena to create a sense of
synesthesia, describing
…scents, fresh as the flesh of babies,
Sweet like an oboe, green like the prairies.

While Baudelaire’s formulations are usually not music-specific and he does not
elevate music in the same way as Schopenhauer or Nietzsche, the development of an
aesthetic that suggests different media can be combined marks his major contribution
to the development of a musico-poetic system. Baudelaire, unlike many of his
followers, treats synesthesia as an inexact, idiosyncratic phenomenon.
Furthermore, Baudelaire was responsible for bringing the Wagnerian element
into French Symbolism. In 1860, he even wrote to Wagner after attending a concert of
his music, later dedicating his only critical article on music to Wagner in 1861.
Wagner’s “total art” theories merged well with the synesthetic tradition begun by
Baudelaire, and the combination of exceptional poems with exceptional music lay only
a generation away.

“Si le pouvoir d’abstraction de Poe est sans conteste supérieur à celui de Baudelaire, sa compétence
esthétique est moins étendue. Baudelaire a un sense de la plastique et de la couleur que Poe ne possède
pas du tout au même degré.” Wetherill, p. 53

…des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies

If Baudelaire was the vessel through which Poe arrived in Europe, Poe was the
vessel through which Baudelaire arrived in Russia. The first translated works by the
French poet were his essay on Poe’s work and introduction to Poe’s life, appearing in
1852 in the journal Pantheon.
For this reason, the otherwise Anglophile Bal’mont
allows Baudelaire a place in his list of influences.

Future generations of French Symbolists, poets like Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane
Mallarmé, and the Belgian-born Maurice Maeterlinck, were not as influential for the
development of a musical aesthetic in poetry as the self-proclaimed leader of the poètes
maudits, Paul Verlaine. Any discussion of Verlaine’s impact on Russian Symbolists
begins necessarily with the opening line of his poem “Art poètique” – “De la musique
avant toute chose” – which became a credo for Symbolist poets, used by poets from
Bal’mont to Ivanov, and almost always out of context. The first two stanzas of
Verlaine’s poem/treatise describe music as a quality of poetic indistinctness rather than,
in Schopenhaueresque terms, an elevation of the medium of music before other forms
of art:
De la musique avant toute chose,
Et pour cela préfère l'Impair
Plus vague et plus soluble dans l'air,
Sans rien en lui qui pèse ou qui pose.
Il faut aussi que tu n'ailles point
Choisir tes mots sans quelque méprise
Rien de plus cher que la chanson grise
Où l'Indécis au Précis se joint.

Grossman, Poe p. 64

Ibid., p. 73

Blok refers to Verlaine as “unconscious” (“бессознательный”)
, underscoring
the fact that Verlaine’s concept of music is here unconnected with the medium of
music itself or with a particular quality of poetry, but with an abstract notion,
suggesting unconscious meanings through vague, indistinct imagery and language.
Here we see echoes both of Poe’s indefinitiveness and of Wagner’s tone-speech.
However, Verlaine’s reputation and perceived authority on matters musico-
poetical also rest a great deal on the musicality of his verse, here the exploitation of
auditory elements of the poem: assonance, alliteration, etc. Though Verlaine argues in
“Art poétique” that formal elements such as rhyme are of secondary importance to
vagaries of theme and meaning, his poetry nonetheless contains a heightened use of
euphonic elements, most famously in poems like “Chanson de l’automne”, with its
repetition of the vowel O against a background of liquid consonants. Here the
influence of Poe is strongly felt, and these qualities of both poets reappear most
strongly in the poetry and theories of Konstantin Bal’mont.
Though this would be enough to secure Verlaine’s reputation in Symbolist
poetics, Daniel Grojnowski shows that the structural and generic conceits of Verlaine’s
poetry play an important role as well. In his article “De la chanson avant toute chose”,
Grojnowski argues that Verlaine’s central place in discussions of musico-poetics has
something to do with the poet’s approach towards modernist aesthetics: “In its different
metamorphoses, ‘modernity’ devotes itself to all sorts of models and enjoys
intermingling them. It operates by voluntary hybridization. Writers and artists search

Blok, Perepiska p. 4

the cultural margins for the ferment of revival.”
The unique ability of Verlaine to
transcend these media boundaries and create “hybridizations” comes not from an
abstract appreciation of music by the poet, but from the use of popular song forms,
which separates him from the influences so far discussed.
The result was a poetic strategy that included sonority in its design, but also
incorporated the structural marks of the song genres Verlaine used: a studied repetition
not only of verse refrains, but of phrases, words, and individual sounds.
This helps
explain why, though Verlaine’s poetry had a marked influence on other poets, he is
also among the most popular poets chosen by composers for song settings. In total,
there exist over fifteen hundred settings of Verlaine’s poems, many of which were
contemporaneous to the Symbolist movement.
Indeed, while the Russian Symbolist
movement was beginning to develop and process poetry and music from the West, the
influential French composer Claude Debussy was setting nearly two dozen of
Verlaine’s poems to music.
The elevation of Verlaine’s aesthetic credo did not prevent Russian Symbolists
from openly deploring his lack of higher purpose. In an unpublished article written in
1894, Valery Briusov, the Russian poet most influenced by Verlaine’s poetry,
nonetheless laments Verlaine’s lack of moral principle.
L’art pour l’art, the
catchphrase of Parnassian decadence in fin du siècle France, had no place in the

“Dans ses différents avatars, la «modernité» consacre toutes sortes de modèles et elle se plaît à les
entremêler. Elle opère volontiers par hybridations. Écrivains et artistes cherchent dans les marges
culturelles les ferments d’un renouveau.” Grojnowski, p. 155

Ibid., p. 158

White, p. 98

Grossman, Briusov, p. 49

mystico-religious world of the Russian Symbolists. But Verlaine’s success at
developing a poetry with the seeming expressivity of pure music meant that his
influence among Russian Symbolists was unavoidable.
Far removed from the deliberate ambiguities of Verlaine’s verse, among the
most seminal works to come out of the French experience was René Ghil’s frequently
revised Traité du verbe, which sought to develop a scientific system for synesthetic
relationships. Ghil had been reading scientific works on the shape of soundwaves
formed by instruments of different timbres; using that information, he attempted to
create an encompassing theory to account for the effect of a poem’s vowels and
rhythms. Such an attempt to impose an absolute system onto a phenomenon as
idiosyncratic as synesthesia was bound to fail, but Ghil’s work also suffered from a
certain difficulty of expression. In bracketed annotations to one of Ghil’s explanations,
Louis Marvick attempts to make sense of Ghil’s tortured prose:
All the ideas are there, and there before him [i.e. the poet], in the vast and
amorphous horizon, the naked mass of Word-instruments: and the Composer
composes, just as the poet is a musician of words. This Instrument or this
characteristic marriage of Instruments [i.e. the poet? the mass of Word-
instruments?] will designate the Theme or the grand leitmotif of the poem’s
thought. These [i.e. the words? the Word-instruments?], in their plan, of
diverse and strictly measured RHYTHMS, will sound the secondary

Although the specifics of Ghil’s arguments are often difficult to follow, his
approach was somewhat more radical than that of any of his predecessors: while
Schopenhauer could make metaphorical links between musical and non-musical terms,

“Toutes les idées sont là, et là devant lui [i.e. le poète], dans l'horizon vaste et amorphe, la masse nuée
des Mots-instruments: et le Compositeur compose, car ce poète est un musicien de mots. Cet Instrument
ou ce mariage caractéristique d'Instruments [i.e. le poète? la masse des Mots-instruments?] designera le
Thème ou grand leit-motiv de la pensée du poème. Ceux-ci [i.e. les mots? les Mots-instruments?], à leur
plan, de RHYTHMES divers et strictement mesurés, sonneront les leit-motiv secondaires.” Quoted and
commented on by Marvick, p. 296

Ghil was attempting a direct overlay of musical and poetic aesthetics: the poet is the
composer, the vowel is the tone. His work aimed to categorize scientifically the kinds
of impulses other poets recognized instinctively, and to give them concrete expression.
In his recent article on Ghil’s theories, Marvick notes the relationship between
Ghil’s subsequent attempts to categorize synesthetic phenomena and the 18
Affektenlehre, or “doctrine of affections”, which dominated philosophy of music during
the Enlightenment.
Ghil had substituted for the “rational” philosophy of
Affektenlehre the science of acoustics, although neither system came close to
constructing a coherent methodology.
Whatever the result of Traité du verbe, René Ghil was a known quantity in
early twentieth century Russia: three essays by Ghil appeared in Scales (in translation),
affording him a direct audience of Symbolist poets.
These included a discussion of
Mallarmé in 1908. Poets such as Bely, who attempted an equally rigorous approach to
constructing sound-fabrics in their works, owed more in methodology to Ghil’s treatise
than to the popular but largely personal expression of sound-color in Arthur Rimbaud’s

Native Developments

Seeking a native antecedent to the Symbolist movement, turn-of-the-century
theorists turned to the otherwise neglected poetry of Afanasy Fet. Much as Nietzsche

Marvick, p. 303

Steinberg, p. 252

turned to Romantic roots in Schiller to provide a poetic heritage for his theories,
Russians’ turn to Fet (and, to some extent, to Tiutchev) stood as an acknowledgment of
Symbolism’s roots in the Romantic spirit.
Fet himself was sensitive to the relationship between music and poetry, as
evidenced in his essays:
The words “poetry is the language of the gods” are not empty hyperbole, but
convey a clear understanding of the essence of the matter. Poetry and music are
not only related but also indivisible. All the eternal works of poetry from the
prophets to Goethe and Pushkin inclusive are – in essence – musical works –
songs. All these geniuses of deep clairvoyance approach the truth not through
science, not through analysis, but through beauty, through harmony. Harmony
is likewise truth. Wherever harmony is disrupted, reality is also disrupted, and
with it truth.

The popular notion of Fet as a musical poet stems from the heightened lyrical
quality of his verse, not to mention Fet’s own use of music as a major thematic element
in his lyric poetry, with titles such as “To a singer” (“Певице”), “To Chopin”
(“Шопену”), and the collection Melodies (Мелодии). This interpretation of Fet’s
musicality appears also in critical analyses of his works: Lydia Lotman, for example,
argues that Fet’s poetry is rooted in a foregrounding of euphonic and melodic patterns,
possibly due to Fet’s childhood spent immersed in Russian vocal music.

Lotman points to a more ambiguous formulation from Fet’s contemporary, the
composer Tchaikovsky, who wrote

“Слова поэзия язык богов - не пустая гипербола, а выражает ясноепонимание сущности дела.
Поэзия и музыка не только родственны, но нераздельны. Все вековечные поэтические
произведения от пророков до Гете и Пушкина включительно - в сущности - музыкальные
произведения - песни. Все эти гении глубокого ясновидения подступали к истине не со стороны
науки, не со стороны анализа, а со стороны красоты, со стороны гармонии. Гармония также
истина. Там, где разрушается гармония - разрушается и бытие, а с ним и его истина.” Fet, p. 303

Lotman, L. p. 125

Often Fet reminds me of Beethoven, but never of Pushkin, Goethe, or Byron, or
Musset. Like Beethoven he has been given the power to affect those strings of
our soul which are inaccessible to artists, no matter how talented, who are
limited to words. He is not simply a poet, but more of a poet-musician, since he
avoids those themes which lend themselves easily to verbal expression.

Tchaikovsky does not go on to explain how a particular theme can be not only
non-verbal but also inherently musical, but it is significant that he shifts the focus away
from the euphonic qualities of Fet’s verse towards a more intangible notion of music.
Taking this a step further in his The Imagination of Spring: the Poetry of
Afanasy Fet, Gustafson argues that the key essence of music in Fet may not be
musicality at all; his analysis of the above quotation helps explain Fet’s influence on
the second generation of Symbolists a little more clearly:
This opposition between scientific, analytical, or sometimes mathematical truth
and the truth of beauty, music, or harmony, recurs throughout Fet’s writings on
art. The musical metaphor, however, is both telling and confusing. Most critics
believe that Fet was speaking about the formal qualities of verse, about rhythm
and rhymes, about vowel harmony and sound orchestration. His verse abounds
in such musical effects. But Fet is speaking about truth. He is saying, I
believe, that poetry communicates as does music: its truth is not an idea or
accepted value, but a personal experience into which the listener is drawn.

In other words, Fet stands as a precursor to Symbolist notions of musical poetry
not only in the heightened attention to euphonic qualities in verse, but also because of
the union of music with a notion of something higher, or Music as an abstract quality
that communicates truth.

“часто Фет напоминает мне Бетховена, но никогда Пушкина, Гёте, или Байрона, или Мюссе.
Подобно Бетховену, ему дана власть затрагивать такие струны нашей души, которые недоступны
художникам, хотя бы и сильным, но ограниченным пределами слова. Это не просто поэт, а
скорее поэт-музыкант, как бы избегающий даже таких тем, которые легко поддаются выражению
словом.” Tchaikovsky, p. 514, 24 aug, 1888. Cited both in Gustavson (p. 194) and Klenin (p. 73, n.31)

Gustafson, p. 168

The notion of Fet as an essentially musical poet received one of its major
champions in Vladimir Soloviev and, by virtue of Soloviev’s central importance to the
second generation of Symbolist poets, assured Fet’s reputation for would-be musical
poets of the early twentieth century.
In his article on the poetry of Fet and Polonsky, Soloviev opens with a line that
could easily be the epigraph for those future poets, had Verlaine’s famous formulation
not taken that role: “After music, lyrical poetry presents the most direct revelation to
the human soul.”
Here Soloviev engages in a Schopenhaueresque sleight-of-hand,
using the medium of music to talk about the ideal Music, but in order to elevate lyrical
poetry as a possible channel for that ideal.
Among Fet’s poems that Soloviev chooses for analysis is “Quasi una fantasia”,
a short lyric whose title references the Beethoven sonata more popularly known as
“Moonlight”. “Quasi una fantasia” would provide Scriabin both with thematic material
used in his Poem of Ecstasy and a unique approach to metrical freedom, though given
the dominance of Soloviev’s writings during this period, Scriabin might have come to
the poem initially through Soloviev’s article rather than through the initial source.
In his analysis of “Quasi una fantasia”, Soloviev continues with his mix of
musical notions: “These kinds of poems are located on the border between poetry and
music, and sometimes directly evoke musical impressions.”
Soloviev acknowledges
here the difference between the two media, but how a particular work exists on the

“Лирическая поэзия после музыки представляет самое прямое откровение человеческой душе.”
Soloviev, “O liricheskoi poezii” p. 208

“Такие стихотворения также находятся на границе между поэзией и музыкой, а иногда и прямо
вызваны музыкальными впечатлениями.” Ibid., p. 218

borders between them is left undeveloped unless the meaning has shifted to
“musicality”. Fet’s poem references Beethoven, but otherwise its relationship to music
appears to belong to the poem’s euphonic qualities.
Soloviev also joined Merezhovsky in bringing Nietzsche – “a talented writer
(who unfortunately turned out to be mentally ill)”
– into the world of Russian
philosophy and aesthetics. Though Soloviev did not share Nietzsche’s religious
leanings, he also did not seem to share Wagner’s anti-Semitism, noting the extent to
which Jewish culture had excelled at music.

Setting the tenor for future Russians’ writing on the heritage of Symbolism,
Soloviev rejected the developments in the French movement, insofar as they lacked the
necessary moral dimension for art: “art is not for art’s sake, but for the realization of
that fullness of life which it necessarily embraces in itself.”
This rejection of the
French based on accusations of Parnassianism – or at least on lack of higher substance
– became a common current among Russian thinkers. Even Scriabin will reject
Debussy on the grounds of the latter’s “passive sensuality”.

This rejection of the French, though never a full break due to their enormous
accomplishments in founding the Symbolist aesthetic, reached its apex in an 1897
lecture by Semon Vengerov, in which he which argued that Symbolism was

“талантливый писатель (к сожалению, оказавшийся душевнобольным).” Soloviev, “Pervyi shag”,
p. 553

Soloviev, “Lectures on Divine Humanity”, p. 153

“искусство не для искусства, а для осуществления той полноты жизни, которая необходимо
включает в себе.” Soloviev, “Pervyi shag”, p. 552

see Maes, p. 214

dangerously altering the traditional path of Russian literature, away from its search for

The Symbolist Poets of Russia

In her work outlining the French influence on the development of Russian
Symbolism, Georgette Donchin argues that a fundamental tension existed between the
emotive French and the analytical Germans: she set the wild decadence of the poètes
maudits against Max Nordau’s Entartung (Degeneration), which purported to prove
that “[the tendencies of the fashions in art and literature] have their source in the
degeneracy of their authors, and that the enthusiasm of their admirers is for
manifestations of more or less pronounced moral insanity, imbecility, and dementia.”

However, Donchin’s binary is a bit disingenuous: for one thing, the French
symbolist movement owed as much to the Germans as to their own culture, thanks
especially to Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche. Meanwhile, Nietzsche was no
more the stereotypically rigorous German than the René Ghil was the stereotypically
emotive Frenchman.
Still, a binary did exist in Russian perception of the French and German
heritage, as evidenced by the cultural rift between the decidedly pro-French World of
Art and Scales versus the strongly pro-German argonauts, among others. However, the
real difference between the French and German heritage for Russian symbolists lay in
the philosophical/religious side of the debate: as far as the Russians were concerned,

Donchin, p. viii

ibid, pp. 15-16

the French were decadents and Parnassians while the Germans brought philosophical
credibility and a higher purpose to the Symbolist project – even Nietzsche, whose lack
of Christianity should have otherwise kept him outside, projected an air of authority
because of his position as a major world philosopher.
Given this winding and diverse genealogy, by the time the notion of the
“musical” as formulated by French and German thinkers began gaining currency in
Russia, the term was already hopelessly stretched. Without even mentioning the
various shades of meaning acquired through German philosophers, Grossman
summarizes the lack of uniformity among French poets:
Musicality in poetry of course did not mean the same thing to all: for Mallarmé
it meant giving a poem the structure of a musical composition, while for
Baudelaire individual words had the value of musical notes. For Verlaine it
meant combining words so that their recurrent sounds create an effect on the
hearer like music.

For the Symbolist poets, this complex intermingling of theories of music was
enough to guarantee a diversity of opinion on matters theoretical. However, other sets
of disagreements helped diversify this opinion even more:
1. Moral/Aesthetic: was the dominance of music in the arts a merely
aesthetic quality or a moral one, as well? Did art exist for its own sake, or to
elevate the audience to a higher moral – if not mystical – plane?
2. Modern/Classical: was the development of music in line with symbolist goals
better served by a return to the classical rigor of pre-Romantic composers, or in
the experimentation of the avant garde movements?
3. Native/Foreign: were the theories surrounding music’s role somehow linked
to a notion of Russianness, or did they transcend national boundaries?

Grossman, Briusov, p. 50


Despite – or maybe because of – these complexities, music lay at the center of
turn-of-the-century zeitgeist in Russia. The short-lived Russian Symbolists labeled its
sections according to musical terminology (“Notes”, “Scales”, etc.), even if the content
did not reflect any justification for the names.
World of Art published song scores
and articles on music theory, and Scales helped spread the works of French Symbolists,
both poetic and theoretical. Articles in Golden Fleece carried names like “Music as one
of the highest mystical experiences” (June, 1907).

The attitude towards music, musicality, and Music was equally idiosyncratic for
each of the period’s major Symbolist poets:
Bal’mont, the poet most influenced by Poe, defends poetry as the expression of
inner music, but also tries to establish a concrete methodology for using vowels and
consonants, unlocking their inner magic. His essay “Poetry as Sorcery” bears the trace
of Ghilesque categorization, but instead of the pseudo-scientific approach of Ghil,
Bal’mont links the sounds with associated words to unlock the power of particular
vowel sounds:
У - музыка шумов, и У - всклик ужаса. Звук грузный, как туча и гуд
медных труб. Часто У - грубое, по веществу своему: Стук, бунт,
тупо, круто, рупор. В глухом лесу плутает - А у. Слух ловит
уханье филина. Упругое У, многострунное. Гул на морском берегу.

Bal’mont attributes this notion of vowel inner-essence to Poe and Wagner,
though it reaches its fullest pre-Symbolist expression in the poetry of Fet: “Буря на

Richardson, p. 40

“Музыка, как одно из высших мистических переживании” Ibid, p. 77

Bal’mont, p. 11 , p. 11. This quote loses the effect in translation, since it relies on the repetition of the
“U” sound in the words Bal’mont chooses to illustrate his thesis.

небе вечернем”
, for example. In that sense Bal’mont is moving away from vowel
texture as an essentially “musical” phenomenon and towards an iconicism of vowel
sound that stretches beyond surface onomatopoeia. However, Bal’mont does not
translate this inner-essence to any higher, world-changing experience.
In contrast to Bal’mont, Briusov was the Symbolist era’s strongest link to the
heritage of the French, especially to Verlaine. In 1893 he published translations of
Verlaine’s poetry and wrote, the next year, an unpublished essay on the French poet.

Though familiar with the works of Mallarmé and Ghil, Briusov does not incorporate
theories of music or musicality much into his work.
The second generation of Symbolist poets yielded a more pronounced set of
philosophies, especially on issues of music in poetry. In a letter to Andrei Bely, Blok
noted in a much quoted – perhaps too much quoted – line, “I don’t understand a single
thing about music, being naturally deprived of any sign of a musical ear. So I cannot
speak about music as about art, in any sense.”
Most analysts read this as a statement
of Blok’s shortcomings on issues of music, a fair assessment since Blok certainly
writes less about music than his contemporaries.
However, the context of that line
and the general topic of the letter hint that Blok’s statement is a bit disingenuous: this
is the first ever of Blok’s letters to Bely (their correspondence eventually spanned over

“Storm on the evening sky”, a poem that creates a powerful euphonic effect through vowel choice and

Grossman, Briusov, p. 49

“Я до отчаяния ничего не понимаю в музыке, от природы лишон всякого признака
музыкального слуха, так что не могу говорить о музыке, как искусстве, ни с какой стороны.”
Blok, Perepiska 1/3/1903, p. 3

This line is cited as evidence of Blok’s lack of a musical ear by Steinberg, Bonneau, etc.

250 letters), and it concerns itself with a criticism of Bely’s article “Forms of Art”
(“Формы искусствa”), which had recently appeared in World of Art.
Blok’s line
about his musical inadequacies comes after a glowing overall review of Bely’s article
and segues into a set of questions asking Bely to clarify some aspects of his musical
theory, pointing out what seem to Blok to be contradictions. Read in context, Blok’s
formulation seems more an act of deference to a perceived expert than a neutral and
otherwise unmotivated statement of artistic ability.
In the continuation of the line that began this chapter, Blok outlines briefly his
view of music sitting at the center not only of the creative universe, but of the actual
universe, as well: “In the beginning was music. Music is the substance of the world.
The world grows in elastic rhythms… The growth of the world is culture. Culture is
musical rhythm.”

Blok’s formulation is closest of all to Schopenhauer’s, who wrote in World as
Will, “We might, therefore, just as well call the world embodied music as embodied
For Blok, however, this embodiment is not just metaphysical but cultural as
well; without music, the evolution of Humanism cannot have taken place: “Music was
the cement that built the culture of humanism. When the cement was no more,
humanistic culture returned to human civilization.”

Мир искусства, 1902, No. 12, pp. 343-61

"Вначале была музыка. Музыка есть сущность мира. Мир растет в упругих ритмах... Рост
мира есть культура. Культура есть музыкальный ритм.” Blok, Dnevnik, p. 360

Schopenhauer, p. 340

“Музыка была цементом, который создавал культуру гуманизма; когда цемента не стало,
гуманистическая культура превратилась в гуманную цивилизацию.” Blok, Dnevnik p. 358

A theorist whose focus on music extended far further than Blok’s, Viacheslav
Ivanov conceived of symbolist poetry as a three-pronged activity: painting, music, and
knowledge, but linked with the ability to move the listener as well. Though he, too,
rejected French symbolism for its lack of spiritual elevation, he joined other Russian
symbolists in their recognition of Baudelaire as the grandfather of the movement,
asking “From what grew this forest of symbols, which stare at us with native, leading
eyes (as Baudelaire said)?”

For nearly all matters musical, Ivanov takes cues from Nietzsche’s Birth of
Tragedy, elevating the German philosopher as the central thinker in his conception of
Nietzsche was the orgiast of musical rapture: it was his second soul. Not long
before his death Socrates dreamed that a divine voice admonished him to study
music: Nietzsche the philosopher fulfilled that marvelous calling. He needed to
become a member of the Wagnerian crowd, dedicating himself to the service of
the Muse and Dionysus, and to develop an understanding of Wagner as the
inheritor of Beethoven, of his prophetic grace, of his Promethean fire-bearing
hollow thyrsus: his heroic and tragic pathos. He needed Dionysus to reveal
himself in music, in that mute art of the deaf Beethoven, the greatest harbinger
of the orgiastic secrets of the soul, before doing so in the word, before the
“rapture and ecstasy.

Significantly, Ivanov uses this passage both to assert music’s dominance and to
justify the right of literature to exist on the same level: music comes first, but literature

“Откуда вырос этот лес символов, глядящих на нас родным ведущим глазами (как сказал
Бодлэр)?” Ivanov, “Poet i chern’” p. 712

“Ницше был оргиастом музыкальных упоений: это была его другая душа. Незадолго до смерти
Сократу снилось, будто божественный голос увещевал его заниматься музыкой: Ницше-философ
исполнил дивный завет. Должно было ему стать участником Вагнерова сонма, посвященного
служению Муз и Диониса, и музыкально усвоить воспринятое Вагнером наследие Бетховена, его
пророческую милость, его Прометеев огненосный полый тирс: его героический и трагический
пафос. Должно было, чтобы Дионис раньше, чем в слове, раньше, чем в "восторге и исступлении"
великого мистагога будущего Заратустры-Достоевского, - открылся в музыке, немом искусстве
глухого Бетховена, величайшего провозвестника оргийных таинств духа.” Ivanov, “Nitsshche i
Dionis”, pp. 179-80

after it still has the power to reveal what lay at the heart of the mysteries. Its greatest
expression in literature has come not from the French or German, but from Russian
writers like Dostoevsky. Likewise, in another article Ivanov praises Tiutchev’s work
for expressing “certain secrets of the great and unspeakable music of the soul.”

Ivanov’s vision of music is united firmly with the notion of Music - less as a
genre, and more as “unconscious exercise in time and numeration.”
However, again
referencing Nietzsche, Ivanov links this supra-generic system with a more concrete set
of meanings: death, resurrection, orgiastic abandon, and tragedy. At most music is a
“liquid architecture” with the ability to challenge and inspire the other arts.

Though Blok achieved what his critics call true musicality in his verse, and
though Ivanov developed a strong theoretical/religious approach to justifying the role
of music in literature, neither writer dominated (and continues to dominate) the topic as
much as their contemporary, Andrey Bely.
In some ways Bely was uniquely situated to write both on music and on poetry.
Besides being one of the most prolific theorists of the Symbolist movement, he also
had a rudimentary knowledge of music theory. Bely could play the piano, and
maintained friendships both with the Medtners and the composer Taneev.
Furthermore, he had made his literary debut with the Symphonies, elaborately

“некие тайные великой и несказанной музыки духа.” Ivanov, “Poet i chern’”, p. 712

“бессознательным упражнением в счету и счислении.” Ibid., p. 713

See Bird, p. 169

constructed works of rhythmic prose, but whose form bore little resemblance to a
musical symphony.

Bely outlines his vision of music ca. 1903 in a letter responding to Blok’s
questions about his article, “Forms of Art”. First, Bely gives two possible schematics
for understanding the relationship of music to other forms of art. The first is a re-
drawing of Schopenhauer’s design, which places the arts in a linear relationship, with
music taking the pride of place at the far right of the line. The second comes from a
suggestion by Blok that all the arts participate in music, placing music in essence
outside of the rest and placing the other arts on equal footing:

Figure 1.1 - Bely's summary of other theories

Bely’s own design combines the two, maintaining the primacy of music as the supreme
art while continuing to place poetry above the other arts. In this chart, music is divided
between music proper, found on the extreme right of the hierarchy, and the concept of
Music, in which all the arts share some quality:

See Tielkes, who agrees with Bely’s assessment that only the fourth “symphony” bears a strong trace
of musical form.

Bely, Perepiska, p. 16


Figure 1.2 - Bely's theory of music and art

This shows that Bely had made the crucial distinction between two of the
meanings of “music” that opened this chapter: the art form and the philosophical
notion. This distinction is important for Bely’s own aesthetics, because he could
reasonably argue that his poetry then reflected the essence of music even if he had little
experience with the art form itself.
Typical of the dominance which Bely has enjoyed in critical circles is this gaffe
in Ada Steinberg’s otherwise excellent Word and Music in the Novels of Andrei Bely:
“Bely’s schooling in musical theory, which distinguished him from other contemporary
writers, and also Wagner’s epoch-making experiment, drew him to the idea of the
indissoluble bond between music and poetry.”
Steinberg goes to great lengths to
defend Bely’s knowledge of music theory against Čiževsky’s criticisms, but it is telling
that neither here nor anywhere in her overview of composers and writers does
Steinberg mention Mikhail Kuzmin, a conservatory-trained musician and composer
who enjoyed equal dexterity in both music and poetry as early as 1906, at the same

Ibid, p. 16

Steinberg, p. 41. Emphasis mine.

time Bely was writing his Symphonies. This oversight speaks less to any critical
shortcomings in Steinberg’s work than to the Bely-centric nature of musico-poetic

Music in Silver Age Russia

While the development of poetry in Russia began a particularly vibrant stage
near the end of the 19
century, the development of music had reached its first major
apex a generation before, with the building of the two conservatories, the international
successes of P. I. Tchaikovsky, and the work of a community of nationalistic
composers who helped sculpt a notion of inherently “Russian” music.
This circle of composers who developed around the tutelage of Miliy Balakirev
set the development of a national music as their raison d’être. Although this sort of
project was not unique to Russia, it also predisposed them towards a certain hostility to
the very German Wagner. Rimsky-Korsakov himself writes about his lack of interest
in Wagner’s theories – although writing from the safe distance of 1906, he also takes
time to credit himself with developing many of the same theories independently, and
more skillfully – until he heard Wagner give concerts in St. Petersburg. Even then, the
only major influence he notes involves Wagner’s style of orchestration.

A contrarian opinion was voiced by the composer and critic Alexander Serov,
who wrote positively about Wagner’s music and appearance in Russia. As this put
Serov at odds not only with those composers but also with the very influential

Rimsky-Korsakov, p. 204, 251

nationalist critic Vladimir Stasov, the vocally Wagnerite element of Russian musical
culture was effectively marginalized.

By the time the symbolist movements were making inroads into Russia, the
former clout of the Balakirev circle was giving way to that of a new circle around the
publisher Mitrofan Beliaiev, partially because of Beliaiev’s active financial support of
young composers, and partially because members of the old circle were either dead or
– in the cases of Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin – drifting into Beliaiev’s sphere.
Included in the new circle were Borodin (until his early death), Glazunov, Liadov,
Dutsch, Felix, Blumenfeld, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Eventually this list would also
include Sokolov, Antipov, and the “warped, posing and self-opinionated A. N.

Rimsky-Korsakov would later wield a disproportionate amount of influence on
the music of the Beliaiev circle composers, but Beliaiev nonetheless offered an
alternative venue for the next generation of artists. Beginning in the 1880s, he held his
famous “Fridays”, gatherings in which music by these new composers could be
debuted informally in a sort of musical salon. Though their opposition to the
conservative and nationalistic Balakirev circle led Rimsky-Korsakov to label them
“progressive”, Francis Maes argues that they were in fact another form of
conservativism: academic rather than nationalistic.
Experimentation was limited to
Rimsky-Korsakovian touches, like octatonic scales, even while Claude Debussy was
radically re-envisioning music in Western Europe.

Maes, p. 40

Rimsky-Korsakov, p. 319

Maes, p. 192

Viewed as a whole, the composers in early twentieth century Russia did not
present a particularly “modern” front. Rachmaninoff and Medtner lay on the more
conservative end of the scale, working predominantly in a Romantic idiom. At the
other end, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, later associated with the avant garde side of
Russian modernism, had not yet begun their most important works. This left any
number of otherwise minor composers somewhere in the middle.
These alignments help explain why, though their contemporaries in poetry were
elevating music as the supreme art, very few composers in turn-of-the-century Russia
had any real connection with the Symbolist movement. In the end, only a few pieces
of Symbolist writing were even approached by contemporary composers: a smattering
of songs set to poems by Bal’mont, Bely, and Briusov, and a choral symphony on
Bal’mont’s translation of Poe’s “The Bells”.
Only one major composer can truly be
said to be “Symbolist” in his own right: Alexander Scriabin. Scriabin would later
enjoy the strong support of Viacheslav Ivanov and occasional mentions by other
Symbolists, but again this was an exception.
Far from lamenting this gap between new currents in poetry and music – a gap
all the more incomprehensible because of poetry’s elevation of music – certain writers
actually supported it. The music critic Emile Medtner, a cousin of the composer
Nikolai Medtner and a friend of Andrei Bely, wrote strongly against new currents in
his article “Modernism and Music”. Emile Medtner used his publications to attack
Reger and Strauss, among others.
Furthermore, both Medtners enjoyed the support of

ibid., p. 203

Richardson, p. 80

Bely, and by virtue of his position as the musical authority among Symbolist poets, a
certain status in the modernist polemics taking place in the journals.
Why would Bely throw his support behind a composer now relegated to such
minor status? Ultimately, Medtner’s position in contemporary Russian music was
determined less by what he was than by what he was not. As Leonid Sabaneev noted,
“The most original thing about [Medtner] is that he was almost the only one among his
musical contemporaries who did not adopt the slogans of the revolution in music, did
not destroy any traditions, and did not seek any new horizons (although he found them
in the end).”
However, Sabaneev elsewhere noted that Medtner was also “a true
master of composition”, about whom people frequently whispered the word “genius.”

This relative conservativism was a more comfortable fit for the musical
sensibilities of poets like Bely, whose conception of ideal music was Romantic rather
than Modernist. Richardson notes that Bely’s elevation of Medtner was more than just
an expression of friendship, but intimately linked to Bely’s view of art:
Belyi attempted to unite Medtner with his greatest contemporaries in literature
(Briusov and Merezhkovsky) and art (Vrubel), whom Belyi considered the true
innovators within modern Russian artistic life. Discussing Medtner as a
“tragedian” in music, Belyi then praised him as the only Russian composer who
affirmed rather than denied life. After again examining Medtner in the context
of Russian artistic life, Belyi concluded that Goethe’s lyrics, put to Medtner’s
music, formed one of the few manifestations of true culture.

The friendship with the Medtners was strained after Bely published, in April
1907, an anti-Wagner polemical article in Scales, “Against Music” (“Против

Sabaneiev, “Medtner” p. 78

Sabaneev, MRC p. 135

Richardson, p. 65

музыки”). Steinberg argues that the article, which was written at the beginning of
Bely’s self-imposed exile from St. Petersburg, cannot be taken seriously in light of
Bely’s otherwise lifelong interest in music.

In opposition to anti-modernist music critics, Viacheslav Karatygin used his
column in Golden Fleece to support and promote Alexander Scriabin, criticize
composers like Rachmaninoff and otherwise Tchaikovskian influences in
contemporary music, and present a strongly modernist edge to the publication.
articles helped push Scriabin to central position among contemporary composers, and
therefore further away from the sympathies of Andrei Bely.

The Overlooked

In The Influence of French Symbolism on Russian Poetry, Donchin argues that
the elevation of music was not mere rhetorical posturing from poets, but it made
possible the verse experimentation that began in the latter half of the 19
century: “[the
evolution towards tonic verse] corresponded to an acutely felt need – the modern ear
was attuned to music, and modern sensibility demanded a more fluid and musical mode
of expression.”

Still, experimentation in free verse was rare and controversial, though Walt
Whitman had achieved international fame for his use of it in Leaves of Grass. It had
appeared recently in France, but even the foremost experimenter of the French

Steinberg, p. 41

Richardson, p. 76

Donchin, p. 171

symbolist movement, Verlaine, satisfied himself with a limited vers libéré rather than
outright free verse.
In Russia, perhaps because of the relatively late development of its literary
meters, free verse and metrical experimentation had an even more difficult time. Even
Walt Whitman was crammed into metrical structures by his primary translator,
Bal’mont. Some attempts at experimentation did take place, albeit rarely. Briusov,
closer to the French tradition than any of his fellow Symbolists, wrote a few short
pieces attempting to exploit its use.
This is not to say that the Symbolist period lacked a strong experimental side,
but experiments in metrics were largely limited to issues of accentual rhythm,
especially incorporation of dol’niki – an otherwise duple meter that allows for a
variable number of unstressed syllables (0-2) between stresses – and tonic verse. This
highlights why the experiments of Scriabin and Kuzmin, though relatively benign from
a 21
century point of view, signaled a radical departure from the work of their
colleagues. However, it was not the nature of the experiments that prevented their
wider appreciation.
What Kuzmin lacked, and the primary reason for his marginalization during the
Symbolist period, was a philosophico-religious current in his works. Though the
Alexandrian Songs were praised by Briusov and Wings had been a succès de scandale,
neither of these works, nor the full collection of poems in Seti, expressed anything in
line with a theosophic worldview. Furthermore, Kuzmin had made no friends among
Symbolists with the publication of his 1909 article “On Beautiful Clarity”, which
argued for a prose of concrete, specific imagery instead of Verlainesque ambiguity.

Underneath the aesthetic criticism is a philosophical one: the Symbolist world theories
are themselves muddled and ambiguous. In “The Testaments of Symbolism”, Ivanov
responded indirectly to Kuzmin:
“Parnassianism” would have a full right to exist if only it did not distort all too
often the natural characteristics of poetry, especially lyrical poetry. It is too
inclined to forget that lyric poetry is by its nature far from a depictive art, such
as the plastic arts and painting. Rather, like music, it is an art of motion, active
rather than contemplative, and, in the final analysis, lyric poetry creates life not

Though Blok would disagree on this negative assessment of the visual arts, and
lecturing Kuzmin on music seems unwise coming from a non-musician, Ivanov’s
criticism aims predominantly at the perceived lack of spiritual elevation at the core not
only of Kuzmin’s art, but of the French tradition in general. Because the Alexandrian
Songs did not elevate the human spirit towards some theosophic goal, their
achievement in uniting music and poetry with the double benefit of freeing Russian
poetics from syllabatonic meter went largely unnoticed.

Bely’s dislike of Kuzmin, however, is more palpable. In his memoir Between
Two Revolutions (Между двух революций), Bely noted Kuzmin’s attendance at one of
Ivanov’s evenings: “M. Kuzmin, having already gasped out his Wings, began to lisp
poems, rolling his eyes coquettishly; at the time I didn’t like him at all.”

“«Парнассизм» имел бы, впрочем, полное право на существование, если бы не извращал —
слишком часто — природных свойств поэзии, в особенности, лирической: слишком склонен он
забывать, что лирика, по природе своей, — вовсе не изобразительное художество, как пластика и
живопись, но — подобно музыке — искусство двигательное, — не созерцательное, а
действенное, — и, в конечном счете, не иконотворчество, а жизнетворчество.”, Ivanov, “Zavety
simvolizma” p. 600. Trs. with a note on the relevance to Kuzmin by Robert Bird, p. 252 n.68

Whether Ivanov’s dismissal of Kuzmin is somehow connected to their very public private life is
another question. Kuzmin had been both a houseguest and roommate in the Ivanov household, and their
relationship began to fracture near the end of the first decade of the 1900s.

“М. Кузмин, уже ахнувший «Крыльями», стал шепелявить стихи, кокетливо опускал глаза; мне
тогда не понравился.” Bely, MDR, p. 95

Kuzmin and Bely shared very little in common in matters of artistic theory, more likely
than not Bely’s dislike of Kuzmin stemmed from the latter’s choice of subject matter.
In a dismissive note in the same autobiography, Bely sarcastically rejected the sexual
openness of Russian literature at the time: “those are their ‘accomplishments’ – a
lesbian tale by Zinovieva-Annibal and the pederastic verse of Kuzmin.”

On the other hand, even Bely did not deny Kuzmin’s skill as a musical
performer. In Beginning of the Century (Начало века) he recalled another evening in
which Kuzmin performed songs at the piano: “М. А. Kuz’min [sic] was at the piano:
he sang his verses to musical accompaniment written for them, in a hoarse, cracked
voice, and it came off wonderfully.”

It took the allegedly un-musical Blok to appreciate Kuzmin’s work as a
composer, hiring him to write the incidental music for his “The Puppet Booth”
(“Балаганчик”). Nevertheless, Blok’s and Kuzmin’s conceptions of poetry were too
distant for Blok to take his admiration of Kuzmin too far – he writes appreciatively of
Kuzmin’s poetry, but without the intense analytical approach that Bely would use to
dissect other people’s poems.
On the other hand, Scriabin should not have met with such resistance, at least
on the surface. Boris Gasparov has argued that the Silver Age marked the first time in
Russian history when the dominant cultural figure was musical rather than literary

“вот «плоды» – лесбиянская повесть Зиновьевой-Аннивал и педерастические стихи Кузмина.”
Ibid., p. 197

“М. А. Кузьмин [sic] – за рояль: петь стихи свои, аккомпанируя музыкой, им сочиняемой, -
хриплым, надтреснутым голосом, а выходило чудесно.” Bely, NV, p. 323

“There was one major exception to this trend: Scriabin. In the first two decades of the twentieth
century, the cult of Scriabin reached truly messianic proportions, comparable to the cults of Pushkin and
Tolstoy.” B. Gasparov, pp. vii-viii

but Scriabin’s own philosophical and literary output received little attention outside a
close circle of family (Boris Schloezer, for example) and admirers.
On the surface, this is easy enough to explain: Scriabin’s philosophical
writings, which were not published during his lifetime, were scattershot diary entries
that never cohered into a stable system. His first completed literary work, The Poem of
Ecstasy (Поэма экстаза), was pulled from publication after its negative reviews at the
premier of the Fourth Symphony, although Bowers notes that Scriabin continued to
read it at public gatherings.
His second large-scale poem, Prefatory Act
(Предварительное действие), was substantially re-written with the aid of Viacheslav
. In all, Scriabin’s literary career was not a success.
Still, there are structural elements in Scriabin’s poems that should have
attracted the attention of writers eager to merge a sense of music into poetry, especially
since Scriabin’s sense of music – as a medium – was far more developed than that of
any of the writers. The Poem of Ecstasy never verges into free verse, but its rapidly
shifting rhythmic patterns, especially towards the end of the poem, and its music-savvy
structural elements merit a much closer reading than it has received.
Of Symbolist writers, only Viacheslav Ivanov considered himself a close friend
of Scriabin, inviting the composer to the Tower to participate in Russia’s most famous
salon, although perhaps fittingly for his philosophy of death and resurrection, Ivanov’s
interest in Scriabin becomes much stronger after the composer’s early and unexpected
departure. Ivanov believed that Scriabin was the consummate Symbolist artist, one

Bowers, p. 110

Volume 6 of Russkie propilei (pp. 201-247) contains both Scriabin’s original draft and the version
Ivanov helped prepare.

who was seeking out true dithyrambs in his poetry.
On the other hand, considering
the crop of composers working in contemporary Russia, Ivanov did not have many
people to choose from.
This largely conservative element in Russian music helps explain Bely’s lack of
interest in and occasional dislike of Scriabin. For a “dominant artistic figure”, Scriabin
almost never appears either in Bely’s theoretical writings or even in his memoirs. With
Medtner’s song settings as the ideal art in Bely’s mind, this is no great surprise:
Scriabin was on the avant garde wing of Russian music.
However, the inability of Symbolist poets to reconcile themselves with the
works of Scriabin may have a more basic explanation: though Scriabin’s musical
output was large and his philosophy sympathetic with that of second generation
Symbolist poets, Scriabin failed to work in any of the genres most associated with
those poets’ theories: he wrote only long poems, not a single lyric poem; he wrote no
operas, although an incomplete and abandoned libretto predates The Poem of Ecstasy;
and he wrote no song settings of poetry – or no songs whatsoever except for the
wordless “Romance”. Scriabin’s full vocal output consisted of that “Romance”, the
Schilleresque choral finale of his first symphony (“Hymn to Art”), and the wordless
chorus of Prometheus.

Most of the Symbolist poets discussed in this chapter were familiar with these
works, but despite a strong interest in music and its possibilities in the realm of poetry,
they did not draw a great deal from Kuzmin’s or Scriabin’s experiments. Though
music was elevated as the supreme art of the Silver age, the specific needs of its

Ivanov, “Vzgliad Skriabina”, p. 187

leading poets guaranteed that the actual incorporation and recognition of musical
elements in poetry was stunted.
This dissertation will explore what the theorists of the Symbolist period missed:
the direct influence of music – the medium – on the poetic production of two
marginalized writers who had the benefit of knowing music proper. In both cases a
close look at the accompanying music brings us insight back to the poetry that inspired


Chapter II

Methodological Concerns

The first chapter of this dissertation discussed the intellectual history that led to
the privileging of music among the arts in Russia of the early 20
century. The
chapter’s focus lay on various artists’ prescriptive theories, or a philosophy of how
music should be considered in the creation of art, at least as an abstract ideal.
However, as this dissertation considers two works that involve both arts in a concrete
way, a discussion of methodology is in order.
Two major questions have to be addressed: 1) Before analysis even begins, how
should the relationship between music and poetry be discussed?, and 2) Once some
form of relationship is determined, what is the best route to analyzing and interpreting
the result? Though the questions are closely related and the answers largely dependent
on the specific texts under discussion, in the broader sense these questions have shaped
the development of musico-literary poetics both in Russian and abroad. This
development is difficult to trace because, as an isolated topic within two much larger
fields, study of what Jean-Pierre Barricelli has labeled melopoiesis has not developed
independently of the two constitutive fields.
As a result, an attempt to draw a
constellation of ideas within musico-literary study relies on very few stars against an
enormous background.

The term melopoiesis was used in ancient Greece to describe musical poetry, and Ezra Pound later
revived the term to discuss poetry that was “musical”.

Nevertheless, this niche field has had a few key champions, and a brief
discussion of their ideas will help clarify the two questions asked in the previous

Assessing the Relationship

One of the most fundamental questions in this scattered field concerns how to
approach the relationship at all: different pieces of art may invite different analytical
approaches, but hybrid or inter-media relationships can extensively complicate matters.
In his work Music, Art, and Metaphysics: Essays in Philosophical Aesthetics,
philosopher of aesthetics Jerrold Levinson attempted to clarify the scattered topic by
exploring three general ways the arts can interrelate: juxtaposition, synthesis, and
transformation. Per Levinson’s definitions, most songs would qualify as
juxapositional hybrids, since they “consist of elements imaginable in isolation from the
others to which they are joined and which, so isolated, would count as bona fide (if
peculiar) instances of the arts entering into the hybrid.”
In other words, the text of the
song can live independently as words on the page, while the music to a song can also
live independently of the lyrics. On the other hand, Wagnerian opera would qualify as
a synthesis, since the theatrical and musical elements are dependent on each other for

Levinson, p. 31 Levinson continues, “This is not at all to deny that in such hybrids the whole is often
(aesthetically) ‘more than’ the sum of its parts, but only to point out the recognizable allegiance the
parts still owe to their artistic origins.”

I’m not sure I agree with or entirely understand this part of his argument. It seems to work from the
point of view of theatre: the drama in Wagner cannot be separated from the music, since it is through

The hybrid with the highest level of complexity is the transformation, in which
“some essential or defining feature of one or both arts is challenged, modified, or
withdrawn.” Synthetic and transformational hybrids are nonetheless distinct from mere
influence of one art form on another, because they remain “wholly and unequivocally”
one art form, “with all standard features intact.”

Levinson’s work is useful in helping to categorize the larger areas in which two
arts can interact, though he keeps his work largely abstract. On the more concrete
level, the most comprehensive discussion of the different levels of influence comes
from Boris Kats’s Musical Keys to Russian Poetry (Музыкальные ключи к русской
поэзии), which concerns itself only with literature that has been in some way
influenced by music. In the introduction, Kats acknowledges that the vague expression
“music and poetry” can mean a large variety of things, so he delineates two areas (and
sub-areas) that his analysis will concern. The first major area concerns thematic links
with music:
1. Elucidation of meaning of those poetic texts which:
a) are thematically linked with music;
b) contain non-evident (and possibly unrealized by the author) associations with
musical works, events in the history of music, or with the musical experience of
the poet, whether from perception as a listener or personal musicianship;
c) are consciously encoded by the author in a way that the reader who does not
have specific information about music cannot be in a position to interpret them.

As Kats acknowledges, not all thematic links are apparent and/or conscious. As
an example of this he charts the commonality of one of Don Giovanni’s arias with
Pushkin’s retelling of the story in The Stone Guest. Whether Pushkin would have

singing that the drama takes place. On the other hand, musical recordings of Wagner’s operas – that is,
music without the theatre – are fairly commonplace.

Levinson, p. 33

made conscious use of the aria in the play is debatable, but Kats makes a compelling
argument that it nonetheless makes itself felt.
Kats then shifts from the thematic to the formal implications of music’s
influence on poetry:
2. Establishment of similarity/dissimilarity between specifically musical and
specifically poetic means of compositional organization in those poetic texts
a) contain (possibly unbeknownst to the author) elements of construction more
typical for musical composition than for poetic;
b) are consciously built by the author according to similarity to one or another
type of musical composition.

Unlike the large-scale distinctions in Levinson’s work, Kats’s categories are not
necessarily exclusive and can often operate simultaneously. His focus is narrower in
the sense that he does not discuss different forms of hybrid arts, but within the narrow
field of music-influenced literature Kats is more concerned with the full impact that
music can have, rather than a more narrowly-circumscribed understanding of
“influence”. This has important implications for how one approaches the study of the
two, since different imprints of influence (e.g. thematic, or structural) suggest different
analytical approaches.
Kats’s major contribution here is the distinction between different levels of
thematic and formal influences, each of which have important implications for

“1. Уяснение смысла тех поэтических текстов, которые:
а) связаны с музыкой тематически;
б) содержат неявные (и, возможно, не осознававшиеся даже автором) ассоциации с
музыкальными произведениями, событиями истории музыки либо с музыкальным опытом поэта,
будь то слушательское восприятие или собственное музицирование;
в) сознательно зашифрованы автором таким образом, что читатель, не владеющий определенной
информацией о музыкальном искусстве, не в состоянии их расшифровать.
2. Установление сходства/несходства между специфически музыкальными и специфически
поэтическими способами композиционной организации в тех поэтических текстов, которые:
а) содержат (возможно, помимо воли автора) конструктивные элементы, более типичные для
музыкальной композиции, чем для поэтической;
б) сознательно построены автором по подобию того или иного типа музыкальной композиции.”
Kats, p. 5

analysis. Most striking is his assertion that certain elements of musical influence may
be unrecognized even by the author, a contentious claim as the level of musical
specificity in a particular text increases. Kats uses the example of Nabokov, who
famously denied having much interest in or knowledge about the technical aspects of
music, but whose works Kats argues nonetheless display certain elements of musical
Knowing the artist’s particular level of expertise in both arts can also affect the
direction of analysis, which becomes a concern in Mark Scroggins’ Louis Zukofsky and
the Poetry of Knowledge. In the section on musical influence, Scroggins begins by
distinguishing between three ways that poetry becomes “musical”, two of which
overlap with the distinctions in the first chapter of this dissertation: 1. “foregrounding
of aural values of words”, or Pound’s idea of melopoieia; 2. rhetoric of music and song
– that is, constant reference to music; and 3. music as a formal model for poetry.

Though Scroggins does address this explicitly, the third of these qualities is itself
divided between poetry organized according to the same formal rules as music and
poetry taking inspiration from musical form. This distinction separates those works
whose authors are familiar enough with musical form to attempt more literal
transpositions, and those like Zukofsky, in whose work “the relationship of music and
writing can be most fruitfully regarded not as an airtight analogy but as a kind of
experimental premise.”
This distinction is crucial because it directs the type of
analysis that can be safely be done on the text.

Scroggins, 176-7

Scroggins, p. 195, citing Karen Lawrence (The Odyssey of style in Joyce’s Ulysses). Joyce actually
did have formal musical training, but Lawrence argues that the fugal sections of Ulysses are more

Both Kats and Scroggins deal with literature that has been in some way shaped
by music. An equally troublesome area of study that falls within the same general field
is song, which contains both a literary and musical text. Should songs be treated as
musical illustrations of literary texts, or as simultaneous interaction of two art forms?
Does one inherently dominate the other by nature of the relationship?
On issues related to music and poetry, the foremost Russian scholar in the first
half of the twentieth century was Boris Asaf’ev. In 1930 Asaf’ev edited a collection of
essays on the Russian song appropriately called The Russian Song (Русский романс),
with articles discussing the relationships of text to music in 19
century works from
Glinka to Rimsky-Korsakov. Asaf’ev outlines the methodological issues in his
introduction to the essays, noting especially that the dominance of either word or music
in song should not be decided as part of a preexisting analytical bias, but is dependent
on the individual piece at hand: “This a priori thesis about what ‘should be’ brings
nothing to the relationship of our understanding of the song as a real object, something
concretely there, and not as something that ‘should be’.”
For Asaf’ev the key to
understanding the song is the notion of “intonation”: not in the typical sense of the
word, but as an expression of the song’s articulation in the full context of its
composition and performance. The song as an object is not just aesthetic, but also
historical and sociological.

inspired by than modeled after musical fugues. Scroggins considers Lawrence’s formulation as an apt
description of Zukofsky’s methodology, although the same can be said for any number of music-inspired
(rather than music-trained) poets.

“Этот априорный тезис долженствования ничего не дает в отношении понимания романса, как
реально существующей, конкретной данности, а не того, чем он должен быть.” Asaf’ev, p. 5

Though Asaf’ev’s warning about a too-hasty discussion of dominance is an
important one, other scholars have nonetheless sought to discuss this relationship as it
works to create meaning. For example, in her book on Art Song, (1992) Barbara
Meister writes,
In an art song the poetic text predates the music. Since the composer has an
unlimited choice of texts, it seems axiomatic that something about the specific
poem chosen must have inspired the composer to attempt to convey its meaning
in musical terms. This would seem to indicate that the text should be of
primary importance to the finished product, and many characteristics of art
song indicate that it is.

Meister is not arguing for a privileging of either music or literature in the
aesthetic sense, but in the generation of meaning. The composer has chosen the text,
therefore the analyst can reasonably look to the text when attempting to discuss the
creation of meaning in the music, as well. This relationship is uneven by nature: only
rarely does a poet choose an existing musical work to write lyrics to. Consequently
Meister can analyze Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis from the perspective of Louÿs’
poems rather than the reverse. However, an important distinction should be made:
meaning in the songs derives not from Louÿs but from Debussy’s reading of Louÿs.
This suggests that Meister’s formula could be improved by considering the song text as
a translation of a poetic text rather than on its original terms.
Along these lines Lawrence Kramer, who is perhaps the most prolific of
scholars working on musico-literary poetics, defines the relationship between music
and poetry in song as combative rather than cooperative. Because the composer is
working with a particular interpretation of a poem, the text is robbed of its multivalent
aspects by a musical setting which attempts to force it into a single – or a least a more

Meister, pp. xvi-xvii

limited – level of interpretation. “The relationship between poetry and music in song is
implicitly agonic, the song becoming a ‘new creation’ only because it is a decreation.
The music appropriates the poem by contending with it, phonetically, dramatically and
semantically, and the contest is what most drives and shapes the song.”
A similar
sentiment was articulated a few decades prior by semiotician George Steiner, who
considered the song setting “an act of interpretive restatement in which the verbal sign
system is critically illuminated…or misconstrued by a non-verbal sign system with its
own highly formal syntax… [The song is] a construct in which the original and its
‘translation’ coexist in active simultaneity.”

These are helpful approaches because they relieve the researcher from the
burden of having to find a definitive “meaning” in an artistic creation that is
fundamentally about simultaneous or translated meanings. Though the text comes with
a certain set of meanings, the composer can choose to set the words in a more directly
illustrative form or to ironize them with a sharply contrasting mood. For this reason,
the combative or translational model of dealing with songs reinforces Asaf’ev’s
assertion that the relationship between word and music has to be assessed on an
individual basis.
These distinctions have important implications for analysis. For example, if
Meister is correct that meaning in a song generates specifically from the text, does
analysis of the work require someone more comfortable with literary analysis than
musical? Works that involve both arts as equal partners are difficult enough, but even

Kramer, p. 127

Steiner, p. 419

when the relationship is uneven, what kind of attention to the minor partner is required
in order to make safe assertions about their relationship?
In a rare book-length treatment of these issues of analysis, the 1988 collection
of essays Melopoiesis, Barricelli argues that equal dexterity is required if analysts are
to avoid the trap of making poor or indefensible connections between the arts. As an
example of poor connections, Barricelli notes that reference to repetition is often used
to justify the musical nature of texts: “Granted, repetition is a central musical necessity
and recall is a central device, but both repetition and recall unify all artistic expression,
from architecture and painting to music and literature.”
Without a formal, analytical
approach to how repetition functions in both music and literature, such critical gestures
lead nowhere:
The dire critical limitation we should be aware of here is the dilettante’s
comparison which relies on inference rather than analysis. Analogy is
important in the cognitive and comparative process, but analogy fashioned
inferentially and not analytically is rootless and constitutes a grievous
methodological error, since neither discipline gains anything in the process.

Perhaps in reaction to mid- to late-twentieth century developments in literary
criticism, Barricelli specifically refers to his notion of melopoiesis as “a stolidly
multidisciplined, formal construct.”
Earlier, David Hillery had made the same point
more forcefully, arguing in his study of French Symbolist musico-poetics, “Merely to
juxtapose poem and music is inadequate; drawing analogical parallels is also
inadequate since musical developments, even in song, can normally be explained in

Barricelli, p. 6

Ibid., p. 4

Ibid., p. 10

terms that owe nothing to poetry.”
This is an important observation, since most
scholars agree that music cannot transmit concrete meaning: meaning is usually
derived from extramusical prompts, like the work’s title, lyrics, programme, etc.
Fortunately, at least one major concern will not play a role in this dissertation:
the question of dominance between competing artists in hybrid works. For example,
studies of Debussy’s settings of Louÿs’ poems face the problem of how, if at all, to
address Louÿs’ work: in essence, the songs are translations that represent more
Debussy’s idea of the poems than Louÿs’. However, the two works discussed in this
dissertation – Mikhail Kuzmin’s Alexandrian Songs and Alexander Scriabin’s Poem of
Ecstasy – lie partially outside this usual complication: these two authors were
responsible for both the literary and musical elements of their works, collapsing the
sometimes contradictory readings of meaning that can complicate interpretations. On
the other hand, this presupposes a unity of purpose and application when none may
exist, as we shall see with Kuzmin’s song settings and their relationship to the texts.
So how should one address the relationship of music to poetry within these
pieces? A key observation appears in Louis Marvick’s Waking the Face that No One
Is: A Study in the Musical Context of Symbolist Poetics. In his work on French and
Russian Symbolists, Marvick addresses the methodological challenges of dealing with
Scriabin’s poem and concludes, “If we take seriously Scriabin’s claim that the poem
‘express[es] what will be one and the same as music’, we must regard the poem and the
music as being equally secondary expressions of some idea conceived prior to both, an
idea worked out in every detail proper to itself before word or note was written.”

Hillery, p. 10
Marvick, p. 32

the sole author of both works, Scriabin does not invite the same interpretive
complications that arise in the study of works that are hybrids due to the involvement
of multiple artists. Furthermore, Scriabin invites the association of music and poetry
towards a common goal, bringing interpretation out of the realm of speculation and
onto firmer ground: rather than a composer interpreting a poem into music, Scriabin
was interpreting a philosophy into both poetry and music.
Likewise, Kuzmin’s work suggests treatment of both word and music as part of
a single project, rather than with particular focus on one of the two media. However
Kuzmin has prepared an extra challenge: though the temptation to view the song
settings as authoritative reflections on the texts might arise due to their common
authorship, Kuzmin’s settings seem to conflict with or reject the otherwise apparent
meaning in the poems. This raises a new interpretive issue: how does one assess a
song in which the same author seems to be pulling the audience in different directions?

Different Routes to Analysis

The second major question in this chapter concerns the how of analysis: once
the relationship between music and literature has been explored, how does one go
about subjecting this relationship to critical analysis? What are the particular pitfalls
involved in possible approaches?
For much of the history of this area of study, the predominant critical approach
to music and literature has been to read them both as texts that reinforce each other in
some way; that is, the analysis has focused on interpretative analogy. A typical

example comes from Wilfrid Mellers, whose work Harmonious Meeting sought to
explain the relationship between words and music in Handel’s oratorios. Recognizing
an emotional shift between two sections of text, Mellers looks for a comparable shift in
the accompaniment: “On the words ‘Lay not our sins to our charge’ there is the
slightest rise in emotional temperature as the music modulates sharpwards to the
dominant; then the immediate reflattening of the seventh that comes, in the treble, on
the word ‘forgive’ is like balm.”

Mellers’ discussion focuses on these kinds of interpretive links, which leaves it
open to the types of criticisms outlined in the first half of this chapter: it lacks a
consistent methodological approach, and it relies on explanations of musical
phenomena that are easily explainable independently of the interpreted meaning. For
example, unclear in the above example is whether the reflattening of the seventh is
consistently tied to a “balm”-like effect, both within the piece and in Handel’s overall
Even this criticism is not so simple, since the demands of rigor in formalist
analysis are not necessarily representative of an artist’s conception of his/her work.
Just as the above discussion of music in poetry has to contend with poets who lacked a
precise understanding of the actual mechanics of music (see the discussion on
Zukofsky below, for an example), an interpretative analysis of music’s effect in
transmitting textual meaning has to contend with composers who do not necessarily tie
musical gestures in such absolute ways: Handel very well could have intended his
reflattened seventh to this effect without doing so elsewhere in the piece. Without a
note from the composer outlining his intentions, both interpretative and formal analysis

Mellers, p. 21

have considerable difficulty making a strong case about the relationship between
individual elements in the two arts.
Of course, to some extent this will always be a problem of analyzing music for
concrete meaning. With rare exception – Eero Tarasti’s Signs of Music: A Guide to
Musical Semiotics argues that music does, in fact, signify – most scholars concur that
concrete meaning in music depends on extramusical phenomena. No matter how
suggestive a particular piece of music may be, its interpretation is usually driven by its
title, by its context, by statements of the composer, etc. A significant rebuttal comes
from Schopenhauer, who noted in World as Will that in many cases song lyrics could
be effectively swapped without damaging the mood or expressive content of the song.
If this is so, it calls into question the expected dominance of the literary text in song
One possible alternative is to shift the discussion away from meaning in formal
structures and into other areas, especially thematic. For example, in a recent collection
of essays, The Idea of Music in Victorian Fiction, editors Sophie Fuller and Nicky
Losseff explore the way representation of music impacts fiction, leading to a variety of
approaches including “composer reception; representations of instrumental practice;
aspects of gender, race, sexuality, and class; musical taste; musical style as wordless
communicant; issues surrounding nationalism and national identity.”
What is
missing here is an attempt to bridge the aesthetics of music with the aesthetics of
literature; music is instead treated as a predominantly thematic concern that prompts
predominantly thematic analysis. That type of discussion does have its necessary place
(especially in discussions of how the influence of one art on the other can help transmit

Fuller and Losseff, p. xiv

meaning), though it neglects the type of fundamental impact one can have on the other
in the very creation of an artistic piece.
At the other end of the critical spectrum lies formal analysis, which in many
respects began with the experiments of René Ghil and Andrei Bely. In his essay “Lyric
and Experiment” (“Лирика и Эксперимент,” 1909), Bely asserts that aesthetics can be
studied as an exact science, so long as it entails the rejection of “obligatory valuation.
Its objective is the inference of principles as the ties between empirical hypotheses of
aesthetic investigations. What’s more, its hypotheses are induced from empirical
Bely seeks to analyze poetry via a “comparative anatomy” (сравнительная
, taking some of his cues from the composer Taneev, who attempted to
rationalize the metrical patterns of byliny according to musical intervals.

Much as in literary studies, the formal approach has dominated Russian
scholarship in musico-literary studies. Efim Etkind expanded Bely’s inquiry into
musical form, discussing the way large-scale musical structures (ternary form, rondo)
insinuate themselves into poetic form.
Kats has pushed this type of analysis to its extreme, locating such complex
forms as sonata and fugue in both poetry and prose. Kats has been careful, however, to
recognize the limits of this kind of inquiry, rejecting the over-determination of links
between musical and literary phenomena; in the case of sonata form, he recognizes that

“общеобязательных оценок; ее задача – выведение принципов как связи эмпирических гипотез
эстетических исследований; гипотезы ее опять-таки – индукция из эмпирических законов.” Bely,
p. 179

Bely, p. 186

see Bely, p. 198 Bely claims to have gotten these ideas in discussions with Taneev.

“verbal art does not and cannot have anything similar to tonality.”
This seems
problematic, considering that tonality is the driving force behind sonata form, but Kats
reframes the discussion to the effects that tonality has on the structural progression of
parts in the sonata, and then looks to the literature for a similar set of effects. In his
analysis of Pushkin’s “To the sea” (“К морю”) and two short stories by Nabokov, he
singles out verbal aspect as the stand-in for musical tonality: that is, verbal aspect has
nothing in common with musical tonality except in its function in the work’s structure.
The formal approach has also had its champions outside Russia. David Hillery,
in Music and Poetry in France from Baudelaire to Mallarmé (1980) makes the good
point that the Symbolists were not unique in their philosophically-shaky worship of
music; Romantic novelists had done for Beethoven what Symbolist poets were doing
for Wagner, but music had a more pronounced effect on form for the Symbolists.
When a poet claims that his conception of music was the direct cause of a
certain development in his poetic practice and when he chooses to use musical
terminology to describe that development, then two essential points need
clarifying. First, the musical conception the poet says he is copying or
transferring should be adequately defined and, more important, should be
shown to be operative within the generic context of poetry; second, the
development in poetic technique needs to be shown explicitly to be the direct
result of the poet’s conception of music rather than a development explicable in
terms of poetic evolution (with musical embellishments), even though the
change came about as the result of a musical stimulus. Without either of these
points being made clear it is really somewhat idle to talk of musical poetry
except in a loose and impressionistic manner.

Hillery’s desire for analytic rigor somewhat belies the fact that poets sometimes
used music as a “necessary fiction”
for the development of their poetry, a fiction

“ничего похожего на тональность в словесном искусстве нет и быть не может.” Kats, p. 29

Hillery, p. 11

Scroggins’ term for Zukofsky’s musical poetics; p. 184

that can nonetheless be explored even if the poetic results do not reflect their musical
stimuli accurately.
An example appears in Scroggins’ study of Zukofsky, although the results are
both encouraging for addressing an understudied area and disappointing for the reasons
Hillery outlines. In addressing Zukofsky’s “fugal” works, Scroggins notes, “the fugal
form of [Zukofsky’s poem] ‘A’ – whatever it might be – is not an aural structure or
sound patterning. It is a ‘counterpointing’ of linguistic, thematic, and conceptual units
rather than a counterpointing of particular sounds or rhymes.”
This creates
something of an analytical problem: not knowing Zukofsky’s conception of the fugue
(since Zukofsky did not know the specifics of musical structure), Scroggins interprets
the text according to fugal terms that he himself places onto the material.
How does one address this kind of analytical hurdle? An analysis according to
the strict definition of “fugue” runs the risk of reaching an obvious conclusion: that
Zukofsky’s form may bear fugue-like elements, but ultimately fails to mimic a real
fugue. On the other hand, a looser search for fugue-like elements runs the equally
problematic course of searching for formal likenesses that may or may not have
anything to do with Zukofsky’s structural strategy. If nothing else, this kind of
challenge helps explain why so few scholars are willing to work on musico-literary
Though structure has been the primary area of inquiry for formalist analysis,
other areas have also lent themselves equally well to it. Andrei Bely located the
relationship in rhythm and meter, and his inquiries in that direction led to his discovery

Scroggins, p. 194

of distinct stress patterns for different Russian poets. Bely noted that, when actualized
word stresses were mapped over potential stresses in a typical metrical pattern, “better”
poets tended to have a more complex and varied pattern of unrealized stresses.
One of the most successful formal studies, albeit limited in its potential for
expansion into other areas, is Judith Aikin’s monograph A Language for German
Opera. Aikin analyzes early opera libretti to argue that the development of the German
literary language was influenced heavily by the need for a suitable German for opera
aria and recitative. The demands of opera – dramatic intensity, rhythmic flexibility –
shaped the developing poetic language, even when that language began to function
independently of its musical context.
What Aikin succeeds in doing is linking
changes in poetic language concretely to music, although she is working with a larger
time scale and a pivotal point in the development of the language, two phenomena that
most of these other studies lack. Still, the recognition that music can impact the
development of the poetic language will have some important resonance in this
Another approach towards analyzing the formal qualities of music-inspired
poetry is to attempt a more literal definition of what poets sometimes refer to as
“melody”. At least two attempts are noteworthy, although neither is unproblematic:
In “‘The Ailing Spirit is Assuaged by Song’: On the Constructive Role of
Vocalism in Russian Verse”
, the poet Olga Sedakova and Valerii Kotov argue that

Aikin, p. 308 “In developing a poetic language and poetic forms suitable for aria and recitative, the
librettists likewise contributed to the development of German as a literary language capable of great
lyrical beauty and emotional intensity, and to the creation of flexible literary forms that could convey
musicality even without demanding a musical setting.”

vowels can be assigned relative pitch classes, and these can be visually mapped in time
against alternating stresses: “Our conception entails an approach to sound in verse as
the bearer of distinct pitch, and to sound structure (not ‘repetition’, but all aspects of
sound distribution) as the distinct organization of pitch, ‘melody’. Thus poetry
contains, in transposed form, both basic characteristics of music: rhythm and organized

The justification of such a study lies in the way sound structure is often
relegated to decorative function alone. If music really is a strong influence on some
poetry, and if music is sound structure, then sound structure should play a larger role in
the construction of poetry influenced by music. Critiquing previous studies of sound,
the authors note,
In all instances… the focus is on the decorative rather than the constructive
function of sound: poems can occur with ‘sound play’ – and without it. The
function of sound texture in verse is thereby likened to that of figures and
tropes, i.e. non-obligatory, facultative elements, rather than to that of grammar,
without which even the most austere of poetic texts cannot be constructed.

Though this seems an obvious observation, actual analysis of sound structure as
a fundamental (not merely decorative) structural element is rare. Roman Jakobson had
recognized it as such in his essay, “Musicology and Linguistics”, but apart from noting
the exciting potential of such studies, he did not pursue them.

published in translation by Michael Basker in the Autumn 1996 (v. 21) edition of Essays in Poetics.
Originally “Болящий дух врачует песнопенье: о конструктивной роли вокализма в русском стихе”
Язык: системаи подсистемы. К 70-летию М. В. Панова. М. , 1990.

Sedakova and Kotov, p. 94

Sedakova and Kotov, 94

Jakobson, p. 457

Sedakova and Kotov distinguish their focus on vowel quality from Andrei
Bely’s by breaking apart the poem into a “line-by-line segmentation into inter-
comparable units”, which in the examples chosen is synonymous with poetic lines.
After analyzing poems by Blok, Fet, Brodsky, Khlebnikov, and Baratynsky, the
authors come to the conclusion that certain poets display a recognizable “type” of
melodic line in their poems which is even more distinctive than their rhythmic patterns
(as Bely had argued). Their analysis gets problematic, however, when they try to
discuss the links between their melodic analysis and its relationship to meaning in the
It is also possible to observe a certain typology of melodic principles held in
common by different poets (thus poems of a hieratically solemn, emotionally
charged, ‘existential’ nature, such as Tiutchev’s already quoted О вещая душа
моя!, Pushkin’s Пророк, and so on, work with a full melodic range, fluctuating
sharply between и and у). We might assume that a definite semantic attaches to
particular ‘intervals’, independent of context: so, for example, the sequence и –
е is connected with maximum relief, with cathartic emotion.

This sort of interpretive analysis suffers from major drawbacks, in part due to
the lack of a large sample of analyzed works. Without a more detailed explanation, the
conclusions seem to contradict somewhat the previous assertion that poets (not
semantics) carry a recognizable melodic signature. The authors do not provide a more
detailed explanation of how one signature differs from the other, and whether, for
example, there is a greater difference between 1. cathartic emotion in Pushkin and
cathartic emotion in Tiutchev or 2. between cathartic emotion in Pushkin and an
emotionally reserved Pushkin.
This becomes even more problematic when the authors begin casting critical
judgment according to the terms of their new definition of melodics:

Sedakova and Kotov. p. 100

It is interesting to discover that certain poets are utterly deaf to the ‘melodics’
of verse – including, for example, the acknowledged virtuoso of versification,
Valerii Briusov (who was evidently receptive only to consonants). In a certain
sense, pitch contour is a poetic litmus test.

This assertion is strange, since the authors themselves have defined this litmus
test, then judged poets according to it – doubly strange since they reject Briusov’s
otherwise secure reputation in light of it. If nothing else, this is a good example of how
an overly-determined formalistic analysis can lie at odds with reader perception, and
thus be of questionable worth in terms of its contribution to understanding a particular
work of art. Nevertheless, the notion of mapping vowel pitches to develop a theory of
vocalic melody is an interesting one, and it deserves some exploration.
A second example of literalizing the semi-metaphor of “melody” in verse, G.
Burns Cooper’s work in Mysterious Music: Rhythm and Free Verse consists of
mapping intonation rather than vowel pitch, graphing the auditory frequency of spoken
performance intonation by a selection of twentieth century poets. Cooper argues that
spoken performances highlight structures not immediately evident in the text, while
recognizing that “Each authorial reading, even if it is flawed, is a strong clue about (but
not an absolute reproduction of) authorial intention(s), just as every conversational
utterance is a strong clue about its speaker’s intended meaning(s).”

Cooper’s assertion about the value of spoken performances in elucidating
hidden structure is a defensible one
, but he does not successfully reconcile the
idiosyncrasies of performance with innate qualities of the text: that is, he never

Ibid.. p. 101

Cooper, p. 117

Ibid., p. 187 “Oral performances reveal things about poetic structure – phrasing, range, parallelism –
that printed texts do not.”

convincingly argues that the melodic qualities of a performance can necessarily be
attributed to the text itself. Because Cooper does not suggest a methodology for
studying intonation in poems as they appear on the printed page, this makes it difficult
to extend his style of analysis any further.
Like Sedakova and Kotov, Cooper also has trouble linking his findings with
anything beyond the work’s formal qualities, although he occasionally makes timid
assertions in that direction. For example, his analysis of T. S. Eliot’s performance of
Four Quartets concludes, “Eliot, in his reading of Four Quartets, certainly seems to be
hearing a guiding melody. His stylized performance sometimes sounds as though he is
between speaking and chanting – a style likely influenced by the traditional method of
chanting texts in the Church of England.”
Here, Cooper is one step away from
linking this notion of style to the meaning and content of the text, though he never
takes that final step.
What is common to both these analyses, apart from their difficulties in bridging
deep structure with interpretative meaning, is that they attempt a reading of poetic
“music” that is no longer dependent on – and possibly even influenced by – music
itself. Though Cooper argues that his use of “musical” is not metaphorical but
, he is really discussing musicality, since reference to the actual art form of
music is rare and digressive. Nevertheless, since the poets Cooper, Sedakova and
Kotov discuss certainly looked to music as an inspiration/model/ideal for at least some

Ibid., p. 128

Cooper, p. 116: “[The] ‘music of poetry’ often has to be taken as an analogical or metaphorical
concept, and pretty much every phenomenon we’ve looked at so far could be treated as a part of it. For
at least one aspect of these putatively ‘musical’ qualities, though, the comparison to music is not
metaphorical at all, but direct. That aspect is intonation.”

of their poetic output, these inquiries into musicality do have their place in the overall

Each of the approaches outlined above will play a role in this dissertation, but
none of them will represent a dominant strategy. Lawrence Kramer has given a
sophisticated explanation of why a sensible analysis cannot rely on any of these
Meanings are always retrospective; they can only be conveyed after we have
learned to expect them. The real question is how fully and concretely a work
meets our expectations of it. In musical terms, I would suggest, such fullness
and concreteness are best grasped dynamically, in the interplay of deep
structure, foreground expression, and field of affiliation.

Kramer’s formulation seems obvious in some respects, but this recognition that
formal analysis can involve a nexus of interlocking fields rather than a strictly-focused
inquiry is helpful, especially when no one field of analysis offers a complete picture of
the way two arts can interact in hybrid pieces. This will be the dominant approach to
analysis in this dissertation, with specific approaches suggested and defined by the
pieces themselves.
Therefore each of the following chapters will begin with a brief outline of the
works under discussion, with special attention to how their defining features suggest
certain analytical approaches. Both Scriabin’s mystical programme and Kuzmin’s
combination of archaism with subtly queer subtext help give entry into the ways the
artists used hybridization to express their ideas both in the foreground and in the deeper
structural level. The interplay of these different elements, against the background of
Symbolist-era polemics about music, offer new insight into the way modernist

Kramer, p. 16 Emphasis mine.

aesthetics could be used to literalize post-Romantic notions of music as the supreme


Chapter III

Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy

In 1904 Scriabin launched his second European tour, partially because of the
debt he had begun accruing since the death of his publisher and most consistent
champion, Mitrofan Beliaiev. The composer had been receiving a small pension from
one of his former students, Margarita Morozova, but his inconsistent publication had
caused financial problems for his family. He also used the tour as an excuse to attend
the second session of the International Congress in Philosophy in Geneva, where he
developed a love of German philosophy, not to mention a copy of Madame Blavatsky’s
La Clef de la Théosophie, a work which would help define his future mysticism.
His musical output, already heavy in heady subtexts, began to incorporate these
new influences: his two-movement Piano Sonata 4 op 30 came with a free-verse poem
in French describing the evolution of the soul. The music follows an evolutionary
curve: the backgrounds behind the first movement’s lyrical theme grow increasingly
complex, and the melody then returns as the climax of the second movement’s presto.
The plans for Ecstasy followed immediately. In his 1904 notebook, he wrote of
an “Orgiastic Poem” in four movements, with each movement divided into stages of
mystical/evolutionary development.
The detailed but incomplete plan contained
references to philosophical concepts that disappeared by the time he completed the

See Appendix A

work, most importantly the notion of a “man-God” (“человек-Бог”). This idea of the
artist-as-God otherwise filled Scriabin’s notebooks until Ecstasy: “The man-God is the
bearer of universal consciousness,” he wrote near the end of the notebook.
Earlier in
the same notebook, he made the connection more concrete and personal – “Я Бог!”

– but as the theme developed he detached himself from explicit identification with the
Nietzschean man-God.
As Scriabin’s interest in Godliness eventually waned, he erased the man-God
completely, ultimately condensing the plan for the “Orgiastic Poem” into a single-
movement work, the Symphony 4 (“Poem of Ecstasy”). In his letters, Scriabin is
alternately worried that the philosophical subtext will be unclear without a program,
and worried that an explicit program will disrupt appreciation of the symphony’s
philosophical subtext; but in 1906, he put aside his music composition to focus his
energies on poetry. His brother-in-law, Boris Schloezer, recalls that Scriabin
recognized his shortcomings as a writer and divorced himself from musical
composition in order to focus on the craft of poetry:
What worries me most is the text. In music I feel like a sovereign; there I am
content: I do what I want. But I have to master verse technique completely. I
cannot allow the text to be less than the music; I don’t want people to look at
my verse as the work of a composer determined to write the text to his own

“Человек-Бог является носителем универсального сознания”, in “The Blue Notebook,” published
in Russkie propilei, p. 189

Ibid., 142

“Единственное, что меня беспокоит, это текст. В музыке я чувствую себя владыкой; тут я
спокоен: сделаю, что хочу. Но мне нужно вполне овладеть техникой стиха. Я не могу допустить,
чтобы текст был ниже музыки, я не хочу, чтобы на стихи мои смотрели, как на произведение
музыканта, решившегося сам написать текст к своей музыке.” quoted in Schloezer, p. 113

The result of Scriabin’s focused poetic work was the 369 line Poem of Ecstasy,
which he printed at his own expense to be handed out during the premiere performance
of the Fourth Symphony.

Ecstasy recounts the journey of the spirit from a static, leisurely existence to
self-realization through challenge. In the opening lines of the poem, the spirit flies
about aimlessly and lazily, which Scriabin reflects in plodding trochaic tetrameter.
Suddenly this free play is interrupted by “disturbing rhythms / of dark presentment”
(“Предчувствия мрачного / Ритмы тревожные”) which the spirit eventually
recognizes as a real threat. The spirit conquers, but finds itself bored with its return to
unfulfilling stasis, and begins to realize that it craves the battle.
With each battle, victory, and return to stasis, the spirit attains a higher and
more self-aware status: in this model of competition leading to still higher levels of
rest, Scriabin’s debt to Hegelian dialectics is most pronounced. By the midway point
of the poem, Scriabin begins reflecting the growing self-awareness by inserting first-
person pronouns into the language. By the poem’s final third, the text has become a
direct monologue of the spirit, speaking in a mix of meters and themes in which the
previous dialectic has all but disintegrated. Here the spirit affirms itself as life-giver,
constantly seeking challenges in order to evolve. The final line of the poem stands as
complete affirmation of the self: “I am!” (“Я есмь!”) Scriabin’s adoption of the
archaic verb lends this final line a Biblical sheen.

Appendix B contains the full text of The Poem of Ecstasy

Scriabin’s interest in the notion of man-God suggests he chose “Я есмь” for its Biblical undertones,
however the phrase also appears in Russian translations of Fichte, whom Scriabin read closely (see the
final section of this chapter).

Shortly after completing the poem, Scriabin experienced a fit of rapid
composition, churning out the Fifth Sonata in a little over a week. This “спутник”
, connected to the two Ecstasies by an epigraph from the poem, further
condenses the philosophical heft of his Fourth Symphony into a solo piano work of
some twelve minutes.
Though the symphony would be a moderate success during Scriabin’s lifetime
(it received second place for the 1908 Glinka prize) and the Sonata would eventually
become the most performed piece in the Scriabin repertoire, The Poem of Ecstasy has
been subjected to derision by critics from the moment Scriabin handed it out. Only
recently have scholars begun to analyze the text, although most continue to ignore it
altogether or dismiss it as unworthy of study. Hugh Macdonald noted, “one Poem of
Ecstasy is a masterpiece of light and color; the other may be safely ignored.”

Levaya notes that the poem has some structure, specifically a “refrain” (“Дух
играющий, / Духъ желающий, / Дух, мечтою все создающий / Отдается
блаженство любви”)
; unfortunately, this is an inaccurate description both of the
poem and of the function of those particular lines. Boris Focht’s article on the poem
treats it almost exclusively from a philosophical angle, although he correctly identifies
the poem’s most important structural conceit – an interaction between duple and triple

Levaya, p. 99

MacDonald, p. 53 However, MacDonald then goes on to try to draw specific links between musical
sections and lines of verse. His reading is sensitive enough to note that the poem contains an “inverted
recapitulation”: “a passage where the spirit is found discomfited and is revived by ‘joyful rhythms’.”
(MacDonald, p. 49) See table 1 below for more.

Levaya, p. 99

Ralph Matlaw devotes considerably more substantial analysis to the poem
as an aesthetic object but misinterprets the poem’s metrical structure, calling the entire
poem predominantly choriambic
; nevertheless he provides some important insights
as to the triple meter’s predominant rhythms.
Although the poem is typically relegated to footnotes in studies of Scriabin,
there is much to be gained from serious analysis of the poem’s artistic qualities, not the
least of which is better insight into Scriabin as an artist. The poem not only contains
structures isomorphic to those in the musical works, but its experimental use of meter
and rhythm show a poet more sophisticated and rigorous than the dilettante of
Given that the majority of scholarship surrounding the poem has focused on its
philosophical content, is this attempt to focus on form and aesthetics wrongheaded?
After all, the content of Scriabin’s diaries lends weight to the theory that his works
have a primarily philosophical thrust and should be analyzed accordingly.
However, despite his own insistence otherwise philosophical consistency is
rarely the overriding concern in Scriabin’s art. On one hand, in the coda of his 6

sonata Scriabin includes a tone beyond the range of the piano rather than bend the
structural pattern he has created. Discussing the oddity of including an imaginary tone
in the sonata, analyst Cheung Wailing concludes, “Scriabin's retention of d'"" does
suggest that he rates structural integrity, which exists in this case only in the abstract,
above aural effect.”
On the other hand, the structural expectations of the 5

Focht, p. 218

Matlaw, p. 16. See also footnote 140

are undercut by an incomplete repetition of the primary theme when it appears in the
recapitulation. Here, Scriabin sacrifices structural unity for dramatic effect, since a full
repetition of the primary theme at this point in the sonata might sound excessive.
In both cases, the lack of complete overlap between artistic content and
philosophical content is clear, and sacrificing a study of the one for the other gives an
incomplete understanding of his works, though this has not stopped some analysts from
criticizing Scriabin’s adherence to aesthetic strategies at the expense of a clear
philosophical unity.
Clearly, some negotiation between the two is needed.
Before proceeding with this analysis, one should remember that Scriabin was
high on rhetoric but low on consistency; any time his own words are used as evidence
for a particular interpretation, that interpretation will have to be defended on stronger
grounds than the artist’s occasional and contradictory commentary. Especially
important for this analysis, as Matlaw notes, is that “Scriabin did not work on music
and text simultaneously and that he changed his mind about the relationship and
relative importance of text and music.”
Though there is an explicit connection
between the poetic Ecstasy, the 4
symphony (also The Poem of Ecstasy), and the 5

piano sonata, these relationships are neither absolute nor perfect: they overlap in many
respects but deviate just as easily. A side-by-side study of words and music has much
to offer, especially when revealing structural isomorphs that form the backbone of
Scriabin’s artistic method. In fact, when describing the composer’s later works,

Cheung, 208

Typical of this are Hull’s notes on the 5
sonata, in which the author is astonished at Scriabin’s
adherence to sonata form in the face of his philosophical program. (Hull, p. 139 n.1)

Matlaw, p. 20

Schloezer suggests that this is how Scriabin actually worked – developing an
overarching concept that belonged to neither medium, and only then translating it to
those media:
We know that Scriabin worked first on the words and only then, having
finished his work, wanted to move onto music, in order to establish all the
details of performance, but it seems to me that this route I’ve described only
seemed as such, and that in reality Scriabin on the contrary went from the whole
to the part, from the Prefatory Action, which he has already seen as a complete
act, to its musical and poetic elements.

If this is so, then Scriabin’s poetry should reveal deeply imbedded structures that can
be mapped more or less onto the music.

Large-Scale Structure in the Poem

The Poem of Ecstasy runs for 369 lines without graphic structural divisions –
that is, there are no spaces to indicate stanza breaks. Nevertheless the poem displays
some kind of structure and is not just a free-form work; thus the first step towards
dealing with the poem is to divide it into its structural units. Without the graphic
separations, we must use other means of determining what the poem’s structural
divisions actually are. Two strategies stand out prominently: an analysis of the poem’s
meters and a division of the poem into thematic sections. The meters and themes
overlap significantly at the beginning, but as the poem’s structure grows more and

“Однако, мы знаем, что Скрябин работал сначала над словом и только, закончив эту работу,
хотел перейти к музыке, чтобы затем установить все подробности исполнения самого акта но мне
кажется, что этот видимый, описанный мною здесь путь был лишь кажущийся и что в
действительности Скрябина, напротив, шел от целого к частному, от Предварительного Действа,
узренного им, как цельный синтетический акт, к его музыкальным и поэтическим элементом.”
Schloezer, p. 119

more complicated, the two must be kept separate in order to see how Scriabin
manipulates his materials.
On one hand, Scriabin uses shifts in meter to indicate some key structural
divisions. These shifts, at least in the beginning, form unambiguous borders between
two types of episodes, creating what Focht calls a “rhythmic dialectic.”
In the
earliest sections of the poem, Scriabin alternates between sections in trochaic
tetrameter and a more ambiguous two-foot tri-syllabic rhythm.
The trochaic sections are usually self-contained; that is, they are typically
bordered by the same lines and thus easy to delineate. The single word “Дух” begins
most of these sections, and the line “Он готов уж впасть в забвенье” closes all but the
final repetition. In the course of the poem, isolated lines and short passages in trochees
or iambs surface as reminders of the trochaic meter without establishing themselves as
discrete sections.
The sections in triple meter are more difficult to deal with. Early in the poem,
they are contained between the trochaic episodes, but as the poem continues, they grow
increasingly longer and begin to incorporate different rhythms and thematic material.
This inability to pinpoint even a base meter arises because of Scriabin’s flexible use of
the anacrusis and inconsistently hypercatalectic endings:
Но чeм омрачен
Этот радостный миг?
Именно тем,
Что он цели достиг.

(lines 136-139)

Focht, p. 218

Here the variable anacrusis prevents us from naming a distinct meter for the
section; the only indication that they belong together metrically is what Matlaw calls a
“choriambic” ( ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯) rhythm, although the term choriambic is inexact in syllabotonic
These tri-syllabic sections are perhaps more accurately labeled dactylic with
variable anacrusis, since a dactylic rhythm predominates and roughly 80% of lines
contain a zero anacrusis.
This approach to writing in an ambiguous tri-syllabic
meter is highly uncommon in Russian literature but not unknown. According to
Gasparov, “Verses with variable anacrusis are exceedingly few in number and become
only sometimes noticeable in the 1830s (when Lermontov’s “Rusalka” was written)
and in the 20

By the end of the poem, the different meters are overlapping and interchanging
so frequently as to make discrete division into metrical sections impossible.

Leaving aside meter, if we divide the poem by thematic sections, we notice
roughly two types: static and dynamic. The “static” sections are so-called not because
of actual stasis in the descriptions – Scriabin uses words like “flying,” “playing,” and

Matlaw, p. 16 Furthermore, Matlaw overstates the matter when he calls the whole poem “primarily
choriambic with a variety of anapestic and trochaic patterns and single bisyllabic or trisyllabic words.”
Matlaw’s recognition that this rhythm is a key to the poem is an important one, but he takes no notice of
the significant blocks of trochees, though they dominate the first third of the poem. Likewise, his later
comment – “The rhythms shift as quickly as the scenes and just as arbitrarily” – is demonstrably

Further evidence for this reading can be found in an observation by G. Burns Cooper in his
Mysterious Music: Rhythm and Free Verse: “Musical theorists and perceptual psychologists tend to see
all metrical units as head first, as in musical measures: strong-weak or strong-weak-weak.” (p. 37)
Given that every musical measure begins with a downbeat, it is not difficult to imagine that Scriabin
conceives of any tri-syllabic rhythm as inherently dactylic, regardless of the anacrusis.

“Стихи с переменной анакрузой очень малочисленны и становятся сколько-нибудь заметны
лишь в 1830-х годах (когда была написана и лермонтовская Русалка) и в ХХ в.” M. Gasparov, p.

See Appendix C for a full mapping of the poem’s thematic and rhythmic sections.

“creating” – but because the action lacks any conflict, the spirit is engaged in free play,
flying “to the heights of negation” (“на высоты отрицанья”). Furthermore, the
variation within repetitions of the static sections is minimal, from the precise repetition
of some passages to minor shifts in word choice in others.
By contrast, the “dynamic” sections introduce a nameless conflict that
challenges the spirit and brings on a struggle. Though the theme of conflict appears
consistently in these sections, the word choice and phrase structures are more
independent, no longer relying on common phrase structures as links between
repetitions. Words and phrases reappear, but in different arrangements and
At the beginning of the poem, these two types of divisions are easy to
distinguish, as they overlap almost exactly. Though the ability to pinpoint meter
eventually breaks down, Scriabin continues to use key words as motifs; their
appearance and reappearances provide signal markers for certain episodes.

Running through all these metrical shifts and thematic developments is
Scriabin’s philosophical program, which was still taking shape during this period of his
creative output. Understanding the philosophical subtext poses a few challenges – even
though Focht devotes his essay to a section-by-section analysis of the poem’s
philosophical program
– because Scriabin was not always honest about his sources.
“He had only to read a page of Blavatsky and under her flag claim the cargo as his

cf. Focht’s article on the philosophical content of the poem, although Focht’s analysis is as
frustratingly vague as Scriabin’s own writing.

own,” complained one acquaintance.
Scriabin advised one young student to “absorb
Kant as quickly as possible and then acquaint yourself a little with Fichte, Shelling, and
Hegel, even if only as a part of the history of philosophy,” although his knowledge of
Kant seems second-hand at best, and his own philosophical system bears a closer
resemblance to those of Fichte and Hegel.
Further complicating matters, Scriabin
attended the second session of the International Congress of Philosophy, Geneva, in
Sept. 1904, and began reading Blavatsky’s La Clef de la Théosophie just before
beginning his work on The Poem of Ecstasy. The resulting musings in his notebooks
read like a pastiche of Schopenhauer and Blavatsky, with lingering traces of Nietzsche,
not to mention of Nietzsche’s love-hate relationship with Wagner and his theories of
With this in mind, we can begin taking apart each section of Scriabin’s poem,
using structural elements of his Fifth Sonata to explain and understand the sometimes
confusing structural patterns in the poetic work.

Compositional Blocks

As noted above, Scriabin organized the poem in blocks, discrete sections that,
rather than develop organically, are recombined and reorganized like bricks. The same

Bowers, p. 188

Bowers notes that Scriabin’s knowledge of Kant seems to have been drawn predominantly from Kuno
Fischer’s book on Kant and the “New Philosophy.” ibid., p. 47, see also Skriabin (ed. Tompakova) for
Scriabin’s notations in Fischer.

The Fifth Sonata, rather than the Fourth Symphony, represents the real break with Scriabin’s more
conventional musical past: Taruskin notes that it is “Scriabin’s first piece to cast off conventional
trappings of tonal closure.” (Taruskin, p. 346)

organizational strategy holds true in much of Scriabin’s musical output. In his analysis
of the 6
sonata, Cheung Wailing writes,
At a time when organic unity is hailed and contrapuntal techniques feverishly
revived, oddly enough, Scriabin preoccupies himself with a variegated mix of
“precomposed” blocks. In composing a work which exploits pure octatonicism
to such an extent, the development of thematic material becomes severely
restricted and a cut in the flexibility with which the composer may manipulate
the musical material to meet his expressive ends seems inevitable. The very
heavy reliance on repetition is none the less much in line with Scriabin's earlier
style; the richness of surface events abides with a severe limitation of material.
Like a kaleidoscope of sounds, there is a constant shift of patterning, though the
basic material remains unchanged, evoking a sense of fundamental stasis.

This analysis, while accurate in content, is also misleading in the context of Russian
classical music. Unlike their German counterparts whose belief in development was
the dominant aesthetic in Western classical music, Russian composers gravitated
towards a particular type of variation – “changing backgrounds variation”, in which an
unchanging melody is presented against different harmonies, rhythms, or arrangements
– as the most culturally marked structural form in the growing national music. In this
form of composition, the content is divided into discrete blocks, each of which contains
its own background material: for example, the melody in his Fourth Sonata never
changes its shape, but the arrangements below it become increasingly complex. In
moments like this, Scriabin’s use of pre-composed blocks is marked as a distinctly
Russian form of composition.
On the other hand, Scriabin was also the first Russian composer to make
extensive use of the piano sonata, a significant departure from the cultural norm and a
nod to the Western tradition. Sonata-allegro form in Russia had appeared most
prominently in Tchaikovsky’s symphonies (another composer with strong ties to the

Cheung, p. 228

West) but almost never in his piano works; some of the few sonatas written in Russia
were the work of Anton Rubenstein, a non-Russian by birth. In some respects he was
a latecomer to the form: the sonata was already out of style in Europe by the time
Scriabin made it a primary vehicle of his musical expression. Even more oddly, none
of Scriabin’s more obvious musical influences wrote many piano sonatas – Chopin
wrote only two, Wagner zero.
While the inclination to reduce Russian art to Slavophil, Western-oriented, or a
deliberate merging of the two is not uncommon in studies of Russian music, here a
claim of merging may be justified according to Scriabin’s philosophical leanings,
themselves an equally deliberate merging of German and pseudo-Eastern philosophies
under the banner of Russian mysticism. Scriabin treats the sonata form less as a
vehicle for development of motifs (as it appears in the German tradition) than as a
convenient ordering pattern for blocks of music whose arrangements fulfills his extra-
musical program: the A│BA' structure supplies a means for themes to appear and
reappear in modified form
– this combined with the contrast between primary and
secondary themes provides a potentially convenient metaphor for evolution through
dialectic. On the other hand, the changing backgrounds variation form is not a natural
fit for the sonata form, giving Scriabin’s sonatas a structural tension that make
understanding their suggested philosophical “content” even more challenging.

It is difficult to describe concisely the issues related to sonata form as practiced by composers of
Scriabin’s generation, so for the purposes of this dissertation I have adopted A│BA' as the simplest way
of conveying both the expectations of a “typical” sonata structure and its historical roots. A represents
the exposition (or “home”, whether signified by key area or some other quality), B the development (a
departure from A), and A' the recapitulation (the anticipated return to the beginning, but with notable
variation). This allows the sonata to be read either as a journey through key areas or as a dialectic
between themes. Qualities of both are present in Scriabin’s sonatas.

These considerations of his treatment of form in music make the poem’s
structure all the more striking – it seems an attempt, despite Scriabin’s adamant belief
that his music and poetry were independent of each other, to write a long poem whose
form would call to mind the ordering of sectional blocks in the Russian classical
musical tradition. In fact, the poem’s structure more closely resembles Scriabin’s late
period sonatas (especially 9 and 10), which focus their energies more directly on a
constant alternation between the primary and secondary themes and less on a strict
sonata relationship. “Scriabin probably conceived the poem in a form approximating
the sonata-allegro in music,” Matlaw writes. “Indeed, the statement of themes,
transitions, restatements, and development betray their dependence on musical form
and do not satisfactorily perform their literary counterpart.”
However, as in
Scriabin’s sonatas, the tense relationship between the approximated sonata form and
the compositional blocks akin to changing backgrounds variation form give the poem a
complexity that cannot be reduced so easily. With these complex echoes of musical
form, the poem has no complement in Russian literature, with the possible exception of
Bely’s Symphonies.

For example, while recognizing the existence of compositional blocks is an
important step in unraveling Scriabin’s artistic strategies, a too-strict adherence to this
method of analysis has led to what Jason Stell calls a “taxonomy” in Scriabin

Matlaw, p. 15. While Matlaw is correct in noting that Scriabin’s music-like arrangement of poetic
units reads unsuccessfully as poetry, his claim of ‘sonata-allegro’ form does not seem to be borne out by
the actual poem.

Bely’s Symphonies consisted of numbered lines of prose, with repetitions that recall motivic
development in music (or at least an impression thereof). Whether Bely’s organizational strategies
represent anything more than a superficial nod to repetition in musical form has been the subject of
much debate. However, the Symphonies have no musical counterpart against which to analyze his
textual strategies.

Stell argues that this particular style of analysis, which seeks to break apart
Scriabin’s harmonic blocks – the uniqueness of which is usually seen as his primary
contribution to music – takes focus away from the unfolding of the music in time.
Analysis of the poem faces similar pitfalls, however the relationship between the
vertical and horizontal cannot be mapped exactly onto both art forms. As Jakobson
Both visual and auditory perception obviously occur in space and time, but the
spatial dimension takes priority for visual signs and the temporal one for
auditory signs. A complex visual sign involves a series of simultaneous
constituents, while a complex auditory sign consists, as a rule, of serial
successive constituents. Chords, polyphony, and orchestration are
manifestations of simultaneity in music, while the dominant role is assumed by
the sequence.

Simultaneity is not a quality of the written word, thus an attempt to argue for
isomorphism between the poem and music has to operate at a level of deeper structure,
focusing on the arrangement of constituent parts and the relationships that these
arrangements create.

Section A, and the poetics of evolution

The opening lines of Scriabin’s poem sets up one of the more stable episodes
that he develops throughout the work. Certain thematic concerns have carried over
from the original “Orgiastic Poem”, including the inspiring spirit (“окрыляющий
дух”), the desire to create (“желание творить”), and the flight to the height of

Stell, p. 6

Jakobson, “Visual and Auditory Signs,” p. 489

negation (“взлёт на высоту отрицания”). More importantly, the opening lines
establish a pattern of line endings that will appear multiple times in the poem:
Жаждой жизнь окрыленный, a
Увлекается в полет B
На высоты отрицанья, c
Там в лучах его мечты D
Возникает мир волшебный e
Дивных образов и чувств. F
Дух играющий, g (dact.)
Дух желающий, g (dact.)
Дух, мечтою все создающий, h
Отдается блаженство любви. i
Средь возникнувших творений j
Он томленьем пребывает, k
Высотою вдохновений j
Их к расцвету призывает. k
И полетом опьяненный j
Он готов уж впасть в забвенье. j

(lines 1-17)

Initially (A
), the lines alternate between masculine and feminine endings, but
after a brief episode (A
) involving a mix of trochees with some trisyllabic rhythms, the
trochaic tetrameter returns (A
), though now the endings have polarized to feminine
and remain so until interrupted by the B section.

represents one of the most marked metrical deviations in the poem, because
it is highlighted by an embedded position between chunks of unambiguously trochaic
tetrameters. Here, with the most-quoted lines of the poem (“Дух играющий, / Дух

Appendix D contains a full scan of these lines.

As always, there are inconsistencies; however, Scriabin uses feminine endings in all but 2 of the 25
lines (92% usage) that constitute close repetitions of section A
. I do not include the so-called Soul’s
monologue, beginning at line 227; though it repeats thematic material from A
, the use of first-person
monologue, accompanied by rapid metrical shifts, require us to read it as a discrete section. Discussion
of this section will be addressed later.

желающий”), another element appears: rhyme. Scriabin begins with a grammatical
rhyme by means of two adjectival participles with identical stress patterns
(“играющий” and “желающий”) then tricks the reader in the third line with a surprise
равноударная рифма – a misleading sight-rhyme derived here from a participle whose
grammatical ending is the same, but whose stress falls on the third syllable instead of
the second (“создающий”).
He heightens the effect by positioning all the participles
at the end of their respective lines, reinforcing the visual parallelism that he undermines
metrically. This change insinuates itself on the next section: when the trochaic
tetrameter returns in A
, the newly-feminine endings rhyme, albeit grammatically (the
rhymes again depend on shared grammatical suffixes, or homeoteleuton, a technique
largely out of fashion in Russian verse). However, while rhymes appear sporadically
throughout the poem, consistent rhyming occurs in no other sections, marking A
as a
special episode.
To reiterate this structure:

Table 3.1 - Structure of the poem's A section

section meter

endings rhyme
4 f. trochees alternating f/M none
2 x 2 f. trochees dactylic grammatical
2 x 3 f. anapests f/M sight
4 f. trochees feminine grammatical

According to Mikhail Gasparov, sight rhymes based on stress changes occur in folk poetry when
contrasting masculine and dactylic endings, occasionally in syllabic poetry between any endings, and
almost never in syllabotonic poetry outside of occasional experiments (Ivanov, Briusov, etc.) (OИРС, p.

Were this an isolated occurrence, it could be a chance pattern not unlikely in a
poem of this length; however, this basic structure is reiterated in all the A sections’
But the difficulty of reading further into such a pattern is that no pronounced
thematic shift occurs to support the structural changes. That is, if A
or A
new material of any sort, it would justify reading A
as the initiator of change, which is
then expressed structurally in A
. An interpretive roadblock emerges, although here
Scriabin’s musical output can offer some clues.
A comparable pattern (in musical terminology, an A│BA' structure) appears
multiple times in Scriabin’s 5
Sonata. As in the A section of the poem, the sonata’s
secondary theme exists in a meno vivo (“less lively”) languor contrasted against the
vivacious primary theme. This theme appears three times in the sonata: twice in a
traditional exposition-recapitulation relationship – the recapitulated theme is
transposed up a fourth, but without further modification – and once in modified form in
the development.
Like the poem’s A section, the sonata’s secondary theme is structured
according to a subtle A│BA' format – subtle, because the variation in A' is nearly
unnoticeable. In the opening A section, the initial phrase is repeated twice, with a
nearly identical ending; the only difference is in the tenor melody, with the G octave
replacing the F:


Figure 3.1 - Sonata 5, measures 120-121; 124-125

Of special importance is the C flat root, which provides these measures with a
complete whole-tone scale: C flat – F – E flat – A – G – D flat (the D natural functions
only as a neighboring tone). Significantly, Scriabin constructs the scale via tritones in
the bass: C flat – F, followed by E flat – A.

After this restatement, the secondary theme goes into a brief contrasting
episode that introduces an element conspicuously missing in the first section: a perfect

The significance of the tritone in Scriabin’s harmonic system will be developed in the following


Figure 3.2 - measures 129-134
Circles indicate the stabilizing fifth in the bass

The E-flat – B-flat in the bass gives the secondary theme its first taste of tonal
stability, but only for two measures.
Though the melody reappears in two
transpositions – both times down a fourth – the underlying harmonies no longer contain
that stable fifth.
But then, another surprise: despite an otherwise exact restatement of the first
section, the perfect fifth from the contrasting episode has migrated into the bass
harmony, so subtly as to be almost unnoticeable. Furthermore, in the final measures,
the root note has changed to accommodate the pattern: now, the C-flat has descended a
half-tone to that B-flat, whose fifth relationship with the F above disrupts the otherwise
whole-tone effect of the harmonies:

Scriabin had previously used this root anchor to a dominant harmony in the “Poème Satanique”. See
MacDonald, p. 40


Figure 3.3 - measures 136-137

Though the difference of a single half-tone is barely noticeable in the larger
picture of the sonata, there is now a perfect fifth between B flat and F, which gives
these measures a harmonic stability lacking in the original statement, however
ambiguous this new harmony may be.
Nonetheless, the restatement of the
secondary theme has incorporated a new element from the transition that subtly
changes its structure.
In the secondary theme’s final appearance, the pattern is the same, though the
whole process has been shifted up a fourth in keeping with the recapitulation’s changes
in key.
As expected, the bass note moves downward a half step in the A' section
from F flat to E flat, changing the scale from whole tone to E flat minor or major.
In an overlay of the compositional pattern with the poem’s A section, the
following deep structural pattern emerges:

If we read the D natural as a passing tone, we now have B flat – D flat – E flat – F – G – A, or the
ascending side of a B flat minor melodic scale, minus the second degree (C natural). If we read the D
flat as an anticipatory tone that resolves to D natural, we end up with B flat – D – E flat – F – G – A, or a
B major scale also minus the second degree. Scriabin doesn’t give us enough context to choose between
these interpretations, creating an effect that mirrors the overlap between major and minor harmonies in
the primary theme.

The manipulation of the secondary theme in the sonata’s development section will be addressed later.


Table 3.2 - Comparison of the poetic and musical structures



General Pattern
A Initial statement:

4 foot trochees,
alternating endings, no
Initial statement:

Secondary theme,
underlying whole tone
Initial statement
B Brief contrasting

- seems to begin like the
preceding section (trochee
beginning on “Дух”)

- departs rhythmically as
the line develops
- incorporates a new effect
into the poem:
grammatical rhymes
- loses the new effect at
the end of the episode
Brief contrasting

- seems to begin like the
preceding section
(similar structure,
transposed up a fourth)
- departs harmonically
as the episode develops
- incorporates a new
effect into the section:
root-fifth relationship
- loses the new effect at
the end of the episode
Brief contrasting episode:

- opening that promises
fidelity to the original

- unexpected departure

- new effect

- loss of new effect with
the development of the
A' Return of original
statement, modified:

4 foot trochees, feminine
endings, grammatical
Return of original
statement, modified:

Secondary theme, root
fifth relationship
Return of original
statement, modified:

Incorporation of effect
from the contrasting

Though these patterns are roughly isomorphic, the poetic variant proves to be
more complicated than the musical, because while A stays the same in each subsequent
appearance, the other sections will evolve significantly.
Within the middle section, three changes occur which complicate matters
further. The first change is subtle, and requires the section to repeat before it becomes
noticeable. As noted in the broad outline of the poem’s structure, Scriabin marks A
giving it a word-for-word repetition at each of its four appearances. When A

the poem promises that the repetition will continue without deviation, and “Дух
играющий” repeats, as expected. But the participle in the second line changes with
each cycle: “Дух ласкающий” (32), “Дух страдающий” (63), “Дух порхающий”
(221). By the third line, Scriabin changes all but the initial “дух.” A pattern of slow
evolution appears: the first line remains unchanged, the second line changes only its
participle, the third line changes all but the initial word, and the fourth line looks
completely different with each cycle. This pattern prepares the more significant
deviations of subsequent sections.
The second important change involves that dactylic ending – the first example
of a trisyllabic foot in a poem that will eventually be dominated by these rhythms.

Within the A
section, these trisyllabic feet increase in number until they claim the
entire line:

Дух играющий,
Дух желающий,
Дух, мечтою все создающий,
Отдается блаженство любви.

One trisyllabic foot appears in each of the first two lines (the dactylic ending),
two in the third, and three – the complete line – in the fourth and final. But the poem,
not yet ready for a full transformation, settles back into a comfortable trochaic
tetrameter in A
Looking forward to future repetitions of this section, further clues towards
Scriabin’s strategy become apparent. With each of the poem’s restatements of A
, the

The appearance of a dactylic ending in what otherwise appears to be a trochaic line had become
commonplace in Russian poetry. M. Gasparov notes that the dactylic endings in Blok’s iambic “the
Unknown” “уже никого не удивляют.” ( p. 209)

third line – transitional insofar as it bridges the hypermetrical trochees with the fourth
line’s dactyls – undergoes its own evolution as well, and this development closely
mirrors the pattern of the overall A
section. The invasive trisyllabic rhythm exerts
more and more dominance until the line breaks apart completely, fully transformed into
the familiar two-foot rhythm otherwise associated with the B sections. The pattern of
slow evolution mirrors that of the evolving word choice:

10. Дух, мечтою все создающий
33. Дух, надеждою радость зовущий
64. Дух, сомнением скорбь создающий

222. Вечным стремленьем
Экстаз создающий

By contrast, the musical variants are much more static. Still, why would
Scriabin include such a minor change, hardly noticeable during performance? What
does he gain by doing so?
For one thing, the establishment of a root-fifth relationship in the bass confirms
a general process throughout the sonata: the transition from V to I in the bass line in
each repetition of the A│BA' process. This dominant-tonic motion is not only a
phenomenon in the secondary theme, but it clues us into the whole sonata’s structural
conceit – this motion dominates the sonata at both the micro and macro levels:
- Within both the primary and secondary themes, the distance from A to A' is a


Figure 3.4 - shift from A to A′
Primary theme: C# → F#
Secondary theme: F → Bb

- In the large-scale compositional strategy, the distance between the exposition
and the recapitulation is also a fourth, which gives structural cohesion to a
recapitulation that otherwise deviates from the sonata form by not returning the
primary theme to its original key:


Figure 3.5 - shift from Exposition to Recapitulation
Primary theme, F# → B,
Secondary theme, Bb → Eb

The overall sonata then reveals itself to be not just a large A│BA' form (which could
describe any true sonata-allegro), but one in which the shift between A and A'
on the small or large scale, is the same in every case: V-I.
Represented graphically,
the move occurs both in the horizontal and in the vertical:

Table 3.3 - Root movement in the Sonata

Primary: A A' Secondary: A A'
Exposition: C# F# F Bb
Recapitulation: B Bb Eb

Compare Scriabin’s baffling claim: “I will play the 5
Sonata uninterrupted in one movement, though
it has masses of tempo changes. These cannot be listed on a billboard advertisement as movements.
Why not just put ‘solo’ and then the details can be given on the program?” (Bowers, p.181) Strange a
description as that may seem for a relatively straightforward sonata form, one could argue that the
Fourth Sonata is really a one-movement work, as well, with the ostensible first movement as a long


In addition, as if echoing the sonata’s harmonic plan, Scriabin fills his melodies with
these upward-a-foгrth jumps: The primary theme is transposed up a fourth in each of
its occurrences in A and A'. From the A section in the exposition:

Figure 3.6 - Transpositions of the Primary Theme
F# → B → E

Likewise, in the secondary theme, all restatements of the main motif in the B
section move by a subdominant relationship.
If nothing else, this can help us understand Scriabin’s overall harmonic strategy
in the sonata. Most analysts have argued that Scriabin composed the sonata in the key
of F#, however the actual patterning of the sonata shows that the work does not, in fact,
gravitate towards a single key.

In the most recent analysis of the sonata’s harmonic structure, Stell argues that
Scriabin’s plan follows a linear and constantly ascending bass line – although this
forces his analysis to use the A' sections exclusively. Noting the sonata’s overall
structure, Stell writes,

Baker and Stell both argue that the sonata is constructed according to a cyclical Urlinie – an
underlying “fundamental line” that stems from Schenkerian analysis, which focuses on the
“background” of a musical work – that could continue indefinitely (Baker, p. 188). MacDonald alone
notes the teleological effect of the sonata’s key changes: “Eb, towards which the closing pages gravitate,
is the nearest to a magnetic centre.” (MacDonald, p. 53)

Because of the perfect-fourth relation between the first theme in the exposition
and in the recapitulation, one might recall other sonatas with “subdominant”
recapitulations (e.g., Mozart’s C-major Sonata, K. 545/i). However, in
Skryabin’s recapitulation the subdominant area is not functional as in Classical
or Romantic syntax. Traditional tonal goals based on root motion by perfect
fifth, and their use in articulating structure, play a secondary role in Skryabin’s
linear technique.

While this may hold true for Scriabin’s later sonatas, Stell has to ignore the
motion by fifths within the exposition and recapitulation in order to make this claim.
In fact, this motion is the structural conceit on which Scriabin organizes the whole
sonata – the logic becomes clearer if, instead of interpreting the recapitulation as the
subdominant, we consider the exposition the dominant (secondary theme in the key of
Bb) finally resolving into tonic in the secondary theme’s recapitulation (in the key of
Eb). Significantly, the sonata’s introductory theme follows a similar course from F# to
its final appearance in the climax in Eb, marked estatico.

Like the imaginary note in the 6
sonata, that miniscule downward step in the
bass carries not only the sonata’s structural weight but, insofar as it points to a
teleological work rather than a traditional home key, the sonata’s philosophical weight
as well.
The rhetorical heft in a typical A│BA' structure lies in the similarity of A to
A', allowing the listener to feel a sense of satisfaction at the return of a familiar theme,
key area, or other quality. While Scriabin does bring the music back to earlier
iterations, he nonetheless emphasizes the variation in A' over its similarities: the

Stell, pp. 27-28

I do not include mm. 1-12 as an introductory theme, although some scholars do. In all its other
appearances, the musical material of these measures functions as “an ersatz cadence”, to use Taruskin’s
formulation (Taruskin, p. 346)

Taruskin argues that this teleological form in Scriabin’s works is their major weakness, since his very
harmonic system already expressed the path to sublime transcendence: “his evolving musical means and
aesthetic aims had rendered such a rhetoric of hyperbole superfluous.” Taruskin, p. 344

rhetorical weight of the music lies on where it is going rather than where it has been.
In essence Scriabin had found a way to communicate the evolutionary dialectic of his
poem using purely harmonic means.

Line 18, and the poetics of stasis

At first glance, the brief and innocuous line 18 seems to function as little more
than a breather between larger sections of the poem’s development. Like a silent film
intertitle, “but suddenly” (“но внезапно”) promises a shift in narrative and tone, but
seems to carry little poetic function itself. However, as Jakobson noted in his article
“Grammatical Parallelism and its Russian Facet,”
Orphan lines in poetry of pervasive parallels are a contradiction in terms, since
whatever the status of a line, all its structure and functions are indissolubly
interlaced with the near and distant verbal environment, and the task of
linguistic analysis is to disclose the levels of this coaction. When seen from the
inside of the parallelistic system, the supposed orphanhood, like any other
componential status, turns into a network of multifarious compelling

True to form, this brief line gives us our first major interpretative paradox, due
to Scriabin’s exploiting of poetic meter.
Because Russian metric poetry is often syllabotonic, allowing for the possibility
of unstressed icti in duple meters, the meter of a particular line can be determined only
by its context, that is, by the lines that border it. But at line 18, after the first full
statement of the A section, Scriabin undermines our ability to determine the meter by

Jakobson, p. 179

couching a metrically ambiguous line between two sections of differing meters.
Taking the line out of context, we read
но внезапно…

- two foot trochee with first ictus unrealized
- one foot anapest with feminine ending

The problem with scansion once we return to the context of Scriabin’s poem is
that both interpretations are equally correct.
Scriabin precedes line 18 with a large
section in trochaic tetrameter (lines 12-17) and follows with a section in tri-syllabic
rhythms (lines 19-23), therefore context provides no clear solution. This metrical
ambiguity serves a number of important functions:
First, the short line “но внезапно” marks the poem’s first thematic break. Until
line 17, the poem has dealt with the spirit in a state of lethargic bliss (“мечтою все
создающий”), an image underscored by the rhythmic regularity of the trochaic
tetrameter. “но внезапно…” begins a new phase, in which rumbling unease in triple
meters (“ритмы тревожные”) disturbs the calm.
Second, Scriabin’s short line calls attention to the rhythmic break itself by
serving as a pivot point: because these lines are read/heard in time, we as
readers/listeners expect the line to be trochaic based on the preceding section, but with

Barry Scherr has discussed the difficulty of determining meter when faced with a possible trochaic
dimeter (emphasis mine):
“Even more limited is the trochaic dimeter, which, because the ictuses fall on the odd syllables,
is a syllable shorter than the already short iambic dimeter. Again, only two possible rhythmic
variants exist, but unlike iambic dimeter, where the fully stressed line is more common, the
trochaic is affected by the tendency in Russian poetry to avoid heavy stressing of the first ictus
when it coincides with the first syllable of the line. The line therefore often begins with two
unstressed syllables, making it difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish the trochaic
dimeter from the anapestic monometer. Both have constant stress on the third syllable of the
line and occasional stress on the first.” Scherr, p.111

the first ictus unrealized, the result sounds like an anapestic line, in effect preparing the
reader aurally for the tri-syllabic rhythm that follows:

Он готов уж впасть в забвенье.
Но внезапно
Предчувствия мрачного…

(lines 17-19)

As it turns out, the use of a duel-interpretation figure as a pivot point is one of
the markers of Scriabin’s harmonic system, as well. In his search to develop beyond
conventional notions of tonality, Scriabin began privileging one particular interval, the
tritone, whose unique properties color the composer’s middle and late work.
Prior to the 20th century, the tritone was often considered too unstable an
interval (its pejorative nickname was diabolus in musica), and its use was most
commonly limited to diminished 7th chords. Scriabin referenced the “diabolic” nature
of the interval in the titles of his works: the complex relationship of tritones in the 9

sonata, for example, underscores the sonata’s alternate title, “The Black Mass.”
fact, Scriabin’s use of the tritone’s inversion property is further evidence that his
musical development might have led to atonality decades before Schoenberg. As Grove
notes, “In 12-note music, the fact that the inversion of the tritone at the interval of an
octave yields another tritone (no other interval except the octave has this property) has
proved fundamentally significant, both in theory and in practice.”

Similarly, the “Poème satanique”, op. 36, whose melodic rhythms reappear in the 4
Symphony (cf.
m. 20)

William Drabkin: 'Tritone', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 2 October 2005),

Beginning in his middle period, Scriabin exploits the tritone’s ability to serve
two functions simultaneously. While the harmonic function of any interval is
dependent on its context, the tritone shares with the octave a unique property of
equivalence: a tritone remains a tritone in any inversion, and it is furthermore
enharmonic with a tritone whose root lies a tritone away:

Figure 3.7 - tritone equivalence
tritone F-B, first inversion B-F, enharmonic tritone B-E#

Scriabin exploits this quality of the tritone in order to explore the relationship
between harmonically distant chords. In his later work especially, he would undermine
the traditional harmonic system by building new relationships off the tritone, forcing
the listener into unexpected harmonic territory.
This technique already begins appearing in Scriabin’s middle period. For
example, the opening measures from his “Poème languide,” (Op. 53, No. 3) published
the same year as the Poem of Ecstasy, contain a back-and-forth pivot off the same
tritone: here, the enharmonic tritones A#/Bb – E allows the bass harmony to pivot
between C major 7
and F# major 7


Figure 3.8 - Opening measures of the “Poème languide”, op. 30 no. 3.
The circles indicate enharmonic tritones Bb/A# and E.
The red line shows the root pivoting from C natural to F sharp and back.

This yields two chords distantly related in conventional harmony but whose
relationship is central to Scriabin’s developing harmonic system.
Of special note is
the way the F# major 7
chord, which Scriabin arpeggiates in contrast to the C major
block chords, unfolds in time: the arpeggio begins with the very tritone that serves
as the pivot, seeming to promise the listener a repeat of the initial harmony, but as the
arpeggio completes, the bass notes progress into unexpected territory, and the familiar
tritone is revealed to have a different harmonic function altogether. Like the pivoting
procedure in Scriabin’s poem, the expected harmonic function gives way to a second,
but equally applicable interpretation.

This type of pivot movement occurs both in the 5
sonata and the symphonic
Poem of Ecstasy. In the sonata, it is especially striking that the tritone pivot appears in
the transitional section between the primary and secondary theme, much as the poem’s
rhythmic pivot is used to transition between the poem’s two meters:

see Dernova, Garmonia Skriabina

Using enharmonic tones or intervals in a pivot function is neither new nor unique to Scriabin, but
constructing a dominant system of harmonic progression out of this function is a significant marker of
his style.


Figure 3.9 - measures 106-107
Here the bass line moves from Eb to A, via the tritone Db/C#-G

In his earlier-quoted words on the “taxonomy” in Scriabin studies, Stell also
mentions a possible solution that might resonate here: “These two dichotomies,
technical–cultural and vertical–linear, are more than just headings under which I might
organize previous scholarship. They are the thesis and antithesis that will give rise to
future studies.”
Here the vertical function, the particular harmonic interval at the
center of Scriabin’s pivoting, is defined – and changed – by horizontal movement; the
progression defines and redefines the name and function of that interval: could this
merging of vertical and horizontal be the key to unlocking Scriabin’s compositional
strategies in the way that Stell envisions?
But first, a qualification: this comparison between the poetic figure and the
musical is not absolute. In the poem Scriabin uses the pivot function to transition
between larger sections; in this respect, its usage more closely resembles a transition
section in a sonata, albeit a brief one. In the music, the pivot is a central feature of
Scriabin’s developing harmonic system, since he uses the distant chord in a dominant

Stell, p. 6

function. Nevertheless, in both cases we can see the notion of pivoting off structures
that permit dual interpretations, an unsurprising approach for a composer with an
interest in 19
century German philosophy. In fact, there are Hegelian (and Fichtian)
underpinnings to Scriabin’s own writings of the time.
As Scriabin approached his
middle period, he was developing a stronger background in German dialectic
philosophy. In a passage Scriabin underlined from Kuno Fischer’s work on Kant
(History of the New Philosophy: Immanuel Kant and his Work), we read
When opposite extremes like A and not-A can exist in one and the same subject
only in a series, and not in one in the same time, it is clear that only time is a
condition for status, likewise for a change of status.

This focus on time, especially on the role of dialectics in time, runs throughout
Scriabin’s work, again unsurprising for an artist working in the time-dominated field of
music. In her essay on Scriabin’s middle period, “The Formula of Ecstasy”, Levaya
interprets the 4
symphony and 5
sonata as progressive attempts to express the
“dissolution of time and space,” metaphorically in the former and more directly in the
Levaya reads the works’ spiral structures as the edifice on which this
disappearance rests, despite misreading the poem’s actual structure.

However, Scriabin’s attention to Fischer gives us new insight into the function
of these pivot mechanisms and their relationship to time. In the manner of a Hegelian

cf. Bowers, II. 47, although Bowers notes that Scriabin seemed more interested in Kant at the time.

“Когда противоположные определения как А и не А могут находиться в одном и то же
субъекте, только последовательно, а не в одно и то же время, то ясно, что только время является
условием как состояний, так и смены состояний”. Fischer, part 4, II, 3. Scriabin’s underline.

“исчезновение времени и пространства”, Levaya, p. 99

Levaya reads the first two lines of the section I label A
as a refrain that marks the spiral structure. In
fact, A
’s literal repetitions, unlike A
’s constant reformulations, hold a stronger claim to that position,
although the method of Scriabin’s development makes the concept of “refrain” somewhat arbitrary. see
Levaya, p. 98

dialectic, they are structures that, despite the desire to separate into opposite
interpretations, contain both an expected interpretation and its antithetical opposite.
They are synthetic structures, but their synthetic properties dissolve in the face of time
and progression: A becomes not-A in the passage from one section to another, though
for a brief moment their shared properties coexist. That brief moment exists in a kind
of stasis, the destruction of time envisioned by Levaya as Scriabin’s necessary
ingredient in the formula of ecstasy.

This existence of line 18 “outside” of time bears a particular irony, since the
actual subject of the words is itself the passage of time: “but suddenly…” (“но
Scriabin may have gotten the idea of metrical ambiguity from Afanasy Fet,
whose poetry he mentions in his letters. Fet had written short poems using this meter
throughout, where the consistently unstressed first ictus blurs the distinction between
the trochees and a possible anapestic monometer. The title of one these poems from
1889 references the first movement of Beethoven’s 14
piano Sonata (“Quasi una
fantasia”), and Scriabin’s vocabulary is not too distant from some of Fet’s
formulations, particularly in the second and third stanzas:
Страстно, нежно
Без усилий
С плеском крылий
Залетать –

This also supports Taruskin’s claim that Scriabin’s emergent harmonic system creates a “timeless”
quality: “Until one of the root notes leaves the trintone treadmill and proceeds along the circle of fifths
(or, in a pinch, by a semitone), the eventual destination of the tritone is in doubt, and one can even forget
that the tritone has a destination. A quality of hovering, of time-forgetful statis, altered consciousness,
or trance, can be induced.” Taruskin, p. 331


В мир стремлений,
И молитв;
Радость чуя,
Не хочу я,
Ваших битв.

Of course, Fet’s use of the trochaic dimeter is far more extensive than anything
Scriabin does, but Scriabin was familiar with Fet’s poetry and would have recognized
the musical reference in the title. Likewise, the thematic material – dreams, flights,
battles, longings – bears a strong connection to the concerns of the Poem of Ecstasy.

To emphasize the growing sense of self in the poem, Scriabin introduces the
first person pronoun as part of a combinatory scheme that prepares this introduction of
self in the first three iterations of A
. Midway through each version of A
, Scriabin
uses a close repetition with one variable – “их к [Х] призывает” – with a different
value for X in each stanza: 1. расцвет (“blossoming”), 2. экстаз (“ecstasy”), and 3.
смерть (“death”). At line 185, during an episode in iambs, Scriabin shifts suddenly
into triple rhythm and combines all three values of X into a single couplet, although
reversing “death” into “life” and adding a significant fourth element:
О мой мир, моя жизнь,
Мой расцвет, мой экстаз!

The self, in the first use of any first-person pronoun in the poem, is finally
introduced at almost the exact midpoint of the text, and all four are enveloped into the
totality of the spirit’s world (“мир”). Scriabin’s close combining of all four elements
at the moment of overlap between multiple threads suggests that he conceives of
ecstasy as a process of self-actualization. As each cycle of the poem completes, the

small discrepancies in repetition accumulate until they reach this moment of
The most likely musical counterpart for this kind of combinatory scheme would
likely be some form of counterpoint or close interaction of melodic motifs. While
Scriabin uses both in the 5
Sonata, neither seems especially tied to an ecstatic or self-
actualizing function: for example, the primary and transitional themes overlap in the
first half of the development section, and the secondary and coda themes appear in
alternating measures in the second half, but no such overlap or alternation occurs in the
sonata’s climax (marked “estatico”). However, a more direct relationship seems to
exist in Scriabin’s later work. The 9
Sonata builds to its climax by layering melodies
directly on top each other, creating intensity through dense juxtaposition.
This also appears to be the organizing principle of the poem’s finale, a
monologue by the spirit itself. Following the progressive breakdown of discrete
metrical sections, the spirit’s monologue nearly disposes with organization entirely,
even alternating between individual lines in duple and triple rhythms. However, even
at its most seemingly chaotic, Scriabin never dispenses with traditional meter entirely:
the individual lines remain recognizable reminders of previous sections in trochaic
tetrameter or dactyls. Scriabin seems unwilling to take his notion of poetic chaos
beyond certain boundaries.
In the end, the poem represents a complex transitional moment in Scriabin’s
development as an artist. The surface philosophy remains, as even his contemporaries
noted, half-boiled, but in the process of wrestling with its formal implications in
poetry, Scriabin both reflected the concerns of his music and pointed forward to his

future work. As we have seen, the opening lines reveal significant deep structural
elements that find important parallels in the music. More importantly, these deep
structures have implications for Scriabin’s philosophical system, allowing his theories
of synthesis through dialectic to appear in his works both at the rhetorical level (the
actual subject matter of his poem) and at the metaphorical level (the interactions of
meter, juxtapositions of melodies, etc.)
As the poem continues and the metrical regularity breaks down, Scriabin will
use the interaction of thematic materials to illustrate a theory of synthesis through
dialectic against the background of relative metrical chaos. While the poem shares
many of its structural conceits with the other pieces of Scriabin’s middle period, in a
way it also looks forward to the more complex structures of his late work, which is less
bound to the formal trappings of the sonata.
As such the poem should be considered a key work of Scriabin’s middle period,
allowing him to break free from his earlier classical moorings and to explore the more
sophisticated channels that marked his later career.


Chapter IV

Kuzmin’s Alexandrian Songs

Kuzmin’s reputation as a writer has so eclipsed his work as a composer that his
music remains, with rare exception, unstudied. This is especially problematic since in
some of his works Kuzmin composed the words and music concurrently, which
suggests that a detailed study of their relationship might offer insight that a more
narrowly-conceived study cannot.
In his earliest writings Kuzmin had expressed an equal interest in both music
and poetry. After a self-imposed exile (ostensibly in the Russia of Old Believers)
brought on by his suicidal departure from the conservatory, Kuzmin’s literary debut
arrived via the publication of a small collection of verse and songs in the so-called
“Green Collection of poems and prose” (“Зеленый сборник стихов и прозы”),
published and distributed privately by the Verkhovsky family.
A major
breakthrough came when Kuzmin met future friend Walter Nouvel, a musician who
introduced him to the Evenings of Contemporary Music. The Evenings were a salon
whose members included luminaries like Diaghilev, and which featured live
performances of new works by local composers. His association with the Evenings of
Contemporary Music and its circle of artists gave him the platform to explore his
talents in both literature and music.

Bogomolov, p. 66

The major result of this was the interlocked troika of Wings (Крылья), a novel
whose infamy derived from its unapologetic homosexual theme, the Alexandrian Songs
(Александрийские песни), a collection of thirty poems focusing on life in ancient
Alexandria, and another Alexandrian Songs, two cycles of song settings based on texts
from the poetry collections. The scandalous topic of the novel (also hinted at in the
poetic cycle) contributed in large part to the unavailability of Kuzmin’s works in the
Soviet era.
For a short while, however, Kuzmin enjoyed success both from his infamy and
from positive critical reception of his poems. He began to interact regularly with other
Silver Age poets, gave performances of his music in tandem with readings of his
poetry, and contribute to journals like Scales and Apollo. The critical backlash that
came later was in part due to Kuzmin’s reputation, but also in part due to the difficulty
of locating Kuzmin within any of the dominant poetic movements. Kuzmin’s verse
bears certain affinities with Symbolism and Acmeism without landing comfortably in
either: this places Kuzmin outside the usually convenient frameworks for
understanding the Russian cultural scene in the early years of the 20
Thanks to a recent resurgence of interest in Kuzmin, the novel and poems have
received renewed attention. The music has had less success, in part because it had less
of an impact on his contemporaries, and in part because the music is far less available
than his literary texts. This lack of attention is especially problematic in studies of the
Alexandrian Songs, because Kuzmin had worked on the music and poems in close
cooperation. Whether the music bears important implications for the poetry has yet to
be answered. This chapter will attempt to address some of these issues.

Background and Influences

The most important antecedent to the literary Alexandrian Songs was the
Chansons de Bilitis, a collection of scandalous poems by French author Pierre Loüys.
Loüys had written Bilitis from the point of view of an ancient courtesan who takes both
male and female lovers, a conceit shocking enough to turn the collection into a major
succès de scandale not only in France, but throughout Europe.
Kuzmin first came in contact with the literary Bilitis through his friend and
frequent epistolary partner Georgy Chicherin, the future Soviet diplomat. Chicherin
had sent Kuzmin a copy of Loüys’ disreputable work in 1897, although nearly a decade
passed before Kuzmin began writing his Bilitis-inspired songs. In a letter dated April
19, 1905, Kuzmin notes the existence of seven poems for the planned cycle, three of
which he has set to music. Only one of those three found inclusion in the eventually
completed song cycle. Furthermore, the letters show that both words and music were
composed roughly in tandem, rather than Kuzmin’s completing the cycle before
choosing individual poems to set.
Kuzmin worked rapidly, sending Chicherin new installments every couple of
weeks; on his part, Chicherin was immediately receptive to the merits of Kuzmin’s
poems. The letters between them is not only insightful for Kuzmin’s notes about dates
of composition, but also because Kuzmin openly discusses his artistic taste during the
period he was working on the songs. In a much earlier letter, Kuzmin’s specific
criticisms of Loüys’ poems provide some insight as to Kuzmin’s own approach when
composing his version of antiquity:

I’m very grateful to you for Bilitis, but I’m extremely annoyed by it and to
some extent even indignant. There’s not a drop of ancient spirit in any of it –
it’s all boulevards, café-chantant or worse. And it’s even more unworthy that
antiquity is used senselessly as a cover for similar pornography. What kind of
century is this? Over there you have some smile of a golden morning, and
everything’s likewise clean and sunny, nudity is the result of naïveté; here’s
half-nakedness on the sofas of separate pleasure rooms. “Hymn to Astarte” is
very good, but it’s so close to the antiques and to the proclamations of Flaubert
and Leconte de Lille that it suffers by comparison. More than anything I loved
the bathing children, and the camels passing by, and then the portrait of winter,
when he looks at the pale sky through a piece of ice.
That is subtle and
poetic; but a lot of things, gracious and dear in themselves, he soils and forever

In this critique certain important concerns of Kuzmin’s poetics appear,
especially his privileging of concrete visual images as representative of good poetry.
Already in 1897 Kuzmin is discussing very specific imagery as examples of what he
“likes best of all” in Loüys’ collection. In a similar vein Kuzmin would choose as the
first piece of his song cycle “Evening dusk”, a poem which consists almost entirely of
a list of unconnected visual images.
The “bathing children” that Kuzmin cites approvingly in Bilitis would appear in
his own “Sun, sun”; likewise the image of men or women bathing appears throughout

Kuzmin is referencing three poems from Bilitis: “Hymn to Astarte” is one; the bathing children and
passing camels appear in I.XVII (“Les petits enfants”); and the farmer staring through the shard of ice
appears in I. XLVI (“Le tombeau des naiades”).

“За Bilitis я тебе очень благодарен, но ею крайне раздосадован и даже до некоторые степени
возмущен. Во всем этом – ни капельки древнего духа, везде бульвар, кафе-шантан или еще хуже;
и тем недостойней, что античность треплется для прикрытия подобной порнографии. Ну какой
это VI-ой век! Там какая-то улыбка золотого утра, так все чисто и солнечно, нагота вследствие
наивности; здесь же полуобнаженность на диванах отд<ельных> кабинетов для возбуждения.
Гимн Астарте очень хорош, но он так похож на автентичные и на воззвания Флобера и Леконт де
Лилля <так!>, что несколько теряет. Мне больше всего нравятся купающиеся дети, и
проходящие верблюды, и затем картина зимы, когда он смотрит сквозь куски льду на бледное
небо, - это тонко и поэтично; многие вещи, сами по себе грациозные и милые, он пачкает и
портит безвозвратно.” Letter to Chicerin, quoted in Dnevnik 1905-1907, p. 451 n.27. Kuzmin’s
distaste cannot be blamed on poor translation: a Russian version of Bilitis did not appear until ten years
later (by A. A. Kondratev), possibly due to renewed interest after Kuzmin’s successes with the
Alexandrian Songs.

the Alexandrian Songs as a major visual motif.
The “passing camels” do not appear
anywhere in the poems, which play less explicitly to exoticism than do Loüys’ poems.
Meanwhile the shard of ice, a wintry motif that has no place within Kuzmin’s largely
summer-oriented Alexandria, found their most famous home in the third of Debussy’s
song settings.
In addition, Kuzmin’s critique of the pornographic element in Loüys’ verse
helps contextualize the almost coy sexuality in Kuzmin’s cycle, which distances itself
from overt physicality with an almost stoic reserve. In Kuzmin’s Alexandria the
rejection of physicality becomes itself the source of pleasure, since graphic depictions
of sex would be “the greatest of sins, tastelessness”, as Andrew Field noted of
Kuzmin’s aesthetics in “Notes on a Decadent’s Prose”.
Though The Alexandrian
Poems sometimes invite comparisons to “The Song of Songs”, their sexual imagery is
nowhere near as explicit. Kuzmin limits his lovers to furtive kisses and stolen glances,
and his favorite synechdocic evocation of the object of desire is “eyes” rather than a
more typically erotic part of the body.

Finally, Kuzmin’s disavowal of inappropriately anachronistic style, which he
witheringly dismisses as “café-chantant” in Loüys’ poems, helps contextualize the
mood and attention to daily minutiae in Kuzmin’s cycle. This negative judgment deals

This motif appears directly in “Evening twilight”, “When I leave the house in morning”, and “Three
times I saw him”

Kuzmin certainly dabbled in obscene poetry à la Barkov, but not in any of his published collections.
Even Wings was scandalous because of its theme, not because of any explicitly sexual content.

Kuzmin focuses on the eyes of the loved one in nearly a dozen of the poems, allowing the “серые
глаза”( with no indication of the owner’s gender) to float between the male and female narrators. See
Panova, p. 369 This visual motif is also important in Wings, where it is used to describe not only the
narrator, but also the narrator’s chief competition for Strup’s attention (a young bathroom attendant) and
a beautiful woman he meets in Italy.

both with Bilitis’ poor evocation of Egypt, which Kuzmin himself had visited just
before reading Louys, and with the tawdry quality of Loüys’ attempts at exoticism.
For factual information Kuzmin’s Alexandria was no more historically accurate than
that of Bilitis, but as Panova notes it is a successful synthesis of what he had read, seen
with his own eyes, and experienced.

This “what he had read” involves a rich and not always expected set of sources.
Kuzmin is notoriously reticent about discussing specific influences in his own art, but a
few stray comments remain. In a diary entry dated December 27, 1934, Kuzmin lists
as key influences on The Alexandrian Songs the historical novels of German
Egyptologist Georg Ebers, even more so than authentic ancients like Aeschylus or
Nina Volkenau, who spoke directly with Kuzmin about the poems,
asserted that Kuzmin also drew inspiration from translations of ancient Egyptian texts
into English.
More recently, Bogomolov and Panova have discovered influences
from more local sources, such as Pushkin and Leskov.
The consensus of
contemporary scholars is that Loüys’ influence on the poems was minimal and
superficial: Kuzmin in fact pulled from an enormous pool of resources.

Ibid. p. 328

Diary, 27/XII/1934. Malmstad and Bogomolov note that Ebers’ works were received by critics as
Professorenromanen (see MB, 99)


Panova in particular devotes a large section of Русский Египет to the diverse origins of Kuzmin’s
eclectic antiquity.

While this is certainly true, the complete disavowal of Loüys’ influence seems tied more to the poor,
tawdry quality of his verse rather than the lack of Loüys-like qualities. Kuzmin might have been playing
the savvy self-promoter in appealing to Loüys’ very popular work, but key strains from Loüys’ poems
are present throughout The Alexandrian Songs.

In fact much of Kuzmin’s early work reflects a strong pull towards an eclectic
portrait of antiquity, present not only in the poetic cycle and the novel Wings, but also
in his early attempts at theatre and musical comedy. The first pieces in The
Alexandrian Songs were pulled from the latter, as Kuzmin explored the possibilities of
different media.
For all that, Kuzmin asserts in his letters to Chicherin that The Alexandrian
Songs were primarily inspired by Bilitis, and he appends to the poem “There were four
of them that month” (“Их было четверо в этот месяц”) the description “in imitation
of P. Loüys” (“подражание П. Луису”). Though the poem occupies a roughly middle
position in the poetic cycle, Kuzmin assigned the song version of “There were four”
prominent position as the cycle’s finale. Kuzmin’s “imitation”, which consists of a
brief introduction followed by four stanzas, departs from the stricter form of Loüys’
Bilitis, whose poems-in-prose are invariably in four short stanza/paragraphs (the
introduction pushes Kuzmin’s to five). However the theme and overall structural
pattern were taken directly from Loüys’ “Chanson”.
The musical heritage of The Alexandrian Songs is harder to trace, in part
because Kuzmin is even less explicit about his musical influences than his literary
ones. Critiques by his contemporaries are no more helpful, although sometimes
colorful: Chicerin refers to the song settings admiringly as “Kuzmin le plus pur”, while
the journal Nashaya zhizn’ reviewing their debut performance allegedly called them
“the works of an utter degenerate.”
If Kuzmin’s diary is to be believed, members of

Chicheren, letter to Kuzmin May 16, 1906. Review from Nashaya zhizn’ described by Kuzmin in his
diary (“совершенно произведениями дегенерата”), November 30, 1905. See also MB p.101

the Evenings of Contemporary Music considered them “somewhat virtuosic,”

although “virtuoso” here can only mean stylistically rather than technically, since none
of the pieces require a great deal of virtuosic skill to perform.
Despite his usual reticence, Kuzmin obliquely discusses his own music in a
scene from Wings, written while he was still composing the song cycle. When the hero
Vanya enters his future lover Stroop’s apartment for the first time, he hears an
unknown male voice singing to piano accompaniment in the next room. Kuzmin here
provides the full text of “Evening twilight” (“Вечерний сумрак”), followed by a brief
description of the music: “And the piano enveloped the yearning voice in deep chords,
as in a thick fog.”
Whatever the musical qualities of the song (we assume Kuzmin is
referring to his own setting, which was written concurrently with the novel), the
language Kuzmin uses to describe it involves a typically Symbolist simile: sound as a
thick fog. The most likely reference to this type of musical “effect” is Debussy, one of
the few contemporary composers whose work Kuzmin enjoyed: fog is a frequent if
overemphasized motif in his music.

From Kuzmin’s diary, October 6, 1905.

Kuzmin, Kryl’ia, p. 217. “И фортепьяно низкими аккордами, как густым туманом, окутало
томительные фразы голоса.” This description is problematic for the song lyrics that precede it; this
will be addressed in more detail later.

Were Debussy’s settings of Bilitis an influence on Kuzmin’s? So far I have not been able to find a
satisfactory answer to this question, and even the painstakingly thorough Malmstad and Bogomolov
gloss over the issue. Kuzmin was certainly familiar with songs by Debussy, although the first concrete
reference to “Trois chansons de Bilitis” comes only in 1907; Debussy had already written some sixty
songs before approaching Bilitis in 1897, choosing three songs (“La flute de Pan”, “La reve”, and “Le
tombeau des naiades”) as songs for piano accompaniment, as well as six non-vocal “mood” pieces for
chamber ensemble (later in piano reduction) collected under the title “Epigraphs antiques”. Until 1907
Kuzmin does not refer to any Debussy songs by name.

Kuzmin’s musical diet, like his literary diet, was enormous and varied. As a
student at the conservatory he had studied under both Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov.
His tastes changed little: throughout his diaries and letters of any given period, the two
composers who occupy the highest place in his discussions of music are Mozart and
Debussy. Of Russian composers he holds Mussorgsky in higher esteem than others,
and in fact Kuzmin’s song settings resemble his more than those of Mozart or Debussy.
He also respects his former teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, but Tchaikovsky and the
Germans are frequent targets of scorn. In a pair of letters listing his many likes and
dislikes, Kuzmin asserts,
I do not like Beethoven, Wagner, and especially Schumann.

I like old French and Italian music, Mozart, Bizet, Delibes, and the
newest French (Debussy, Ravel, Ladmirault, Chausson); I used to love Berlioz,
I prefer vocal and ballet music; I prefer intimate music, but not quartets.

Like and dislike is not necessarily a clear guide to ascertaining influence: for
example, dislike of Beethoven was a motivating influence on any number of late 19

century composers (Scriabin included, who nonetheless borrows a great deal from
Beethoven). However, Kuzmin’s dislike of Wagner is especially noteworthy, since
Wagner-fever dominated discussions of art in early 20
century Russia. Nor was
Kuzmin entirely immune to the influence of the German opera composer: the second
part of Wings opens with a discussion of Wagnerian opera, judging most of Wagner’s
work harshly, but with some exception. Using the characters of Wings as his
mouthpiece, Kuzmin asserts the superiority of Tannhauser due in part to its classical

“Я не люблю Бетховена, Вагнера и особенно Шумана.” Letter to Ruslov, 28/15 Nov, 1907; see
Bogomolov, pp. 203; and MB 139-40

“Люблю старую французскую и итальянскую музыку, Mozart’a, Bizet, Delibes’a, и новейших
французов (Debussy, Ravel, Ladmirault, Chausson); прежде любил Berlioz’a, люблю музыку больше
вокально и балетную; больше люблю интимную музыку, но не квартеты.” Letter to Ruslov, 8-9
Dec, 1907, ibid. See also Bogomolov, p. 210

subject, while rejecting the otherwise ascetic bent of Wagner’s plots: “Asceticism is, in
essence, the most unnatural phenomenon, and the chastity of some animals is the purest

Kuzmin’s assertion that he prefers the “old French and Italian” to the more
emotionally transparent music of the Romantics or the more dominant musical ethos of
the Germans helps situate his alignments among contemporary artists, his dislike of
Scriabin, his strong affinity for Debussy, and the relatively dry and transparent quality
of his own musical settings.
These settings are interesting for their debt to Mussorgsky, both in a harmonic
logic that is often self-contained and idiosyncratic, in a certain patchwork quality that
regards each measure as an individual unit rather than organically linking to those
measures surrounding it, and also in the construction of melody according to principles
of speech rhythm and especially speech intonation.
This latter quality was a
pronounced feature of Mussorgsky’s late period song settings.
Even more so than in
Mussorgsky, Kuzmin’s music is without a trace of anything “folkish”, especially
without the melismatic lines associated with “authentic” protyazhnaya singing:
Kuzmin was more Western-leaning in his musical tastes than any of his
contemporaries, rejecting the Slavophilia of his conservatory teachers.
There are some nods to religious music, especially with the old believer
traditions of znamenny chant: in Kuzmin’s songs these appear as unisons or octaves

“Аскетизм - это, в сущности, наиболее противоестественное явление, и целомудрие некоторых
животных - чистейший вымысел.” Kryl’ias, pp. 82-3

In Kuzmin’s music this is a quality somewhat limited to the Alexandrian Songs. The melodic lines in
the settings of Chimes of Love, for example, follow more regular musical rhythms not reflective of
speech patterns; the shape of the melodies are likewise not reflective of speech intonations.

Taruskin, p.123

with the piano accompaniment, as well as occasional modal qualities (although a more
historically accurate parallel to chant would involve the lack of a leading tone rather
than the construction of a full mode). While this may seem strange in light of
Kuzmin’s apparent lack of interest in other issues popular with nationalists, Kuzmin
nonetheless had a pronounced interest in Old Believers that he did not extend to folk

As for classical influences, the Russian tradition of changing backgrounds
variation, in which a melody is held without variation over a shifting accompaniment,
has some echoes but is never adopted as an overall organizing principle in Kuzmin’s
work. His construction of a musical Alexandria is, like his poetic Alexandria,
refreshingly free from the clichés of exoticism: with rare exception, he avoids the
temptation to use augmented seconds, a temptation freely indulged by his conservatory
instructor Rimsky-Korsakov. Likewise, the occasional modal qualities are unforced
and unobtrusive. It is perhaps surprising that there is none of Debussy in the
Alexandrian Songs despite Kuzmin’s great love of the composer, and despite their
mutual debt to Mussorgsky.
Kuzmin’s musical style is thus as diverse and eclectic a compendium of sources
as his literary background. The resultant music, which often sounds jarring due to
abrupt shifts and unexpected harmonic progressions, mirrors the sometimes strange
progressions in the poems.
In all, Kuzmin chose twelve of the thirty-two published Alexandrian Songs for
musical setting. The following list indicates the title of each work, as well as its
placement within the poetic cycle (section and number).

An early photograph of Kuzmin shows him in full beard, dressed in traditional Old Believer garb.

Book I 1. Вечерний сумрак (I.3)
2. Сладко умереть (IV.4)
3. Что ж делать (IV.2)
4. Я спрашивал (IV.1)
5. Если б я был (II.7)
6. Солнце, солнце (IV.5)

Book 2: 1. Когда мне говорят “Александрия” (I.2)
2. Когда утром выхожу из дома (II.5)
3. Ты – как у гадателя отрок (II.2)
4. Когда я тебя первый раз встретил (II.1)
5. Нас было четыре сестры (III.1)
6. Их было четверо в этот месяц (III.5)

The first book of songs relies heavily on section four of the poetic cycle,
“Wisdom” (“Мудрость”). Book two involves predominantly sections two, “Love”
(“Любовь”), and three, “She (“Она”). Oddly there are no settings from the section
entitled “Canopic songs” (“Канопские песенки”), this despite their more regular
rhythms and conventional rhymes. This suggests that Kuzmin approached both poetry
and music as an active engagement with irregularity and asymmetry.
The choice of wisdom, arguably the least lyrical major theme of the
Alexandrian Songs, as the dominant subject of the first book perhaps explains the often
spare settings that Kuzmin composed for these songs, as well as his detached attitude
towards the themes of love and desire. Because there is clear overlap between the
musical style and the choice of poems, does the musical accompaniment to The
Alexandrian Songs invite us to reread Kuzmin’s poetry through a different lens?
The possibility of such a reading of Kuzmin’s music-influenced poetry was
asserted already by early critics of Kuzmin, including Gumilev in his essay “The Life
of Verse” (“Жизнь стиха”). Commenting on the fluid verse of Kuzmin’s Chimes of
Love (Куранты Любви), Gumilev suggested,

See Appendix E for full texts of each of these poems

At the same time [as the verses], the author wrote music to them as well, and
this gave them the stamp of some sort of special exaltation and elegance which
is only accessible to pure sounds. The verse flows like a jet of thick, fragrant,
and sweet honey, and you believe that this alone is the natural form of human

Whether the flexibility required for musical settings lent Kuzmin’s verse these
“pure sounds”, much less the qualities of a natural speech, will be part of our study.
The rest will concern the relationship of formal expectations in the verse and song, and
whether Kuzmin’s negotiations between the two yield a more pregnant text than
initially appears.

Poetic and Musical Organization

Generally speaking, the organizational logic of much of the Alexandrian Songs
is linked to stanzas rather than to the length of written verse or melodic line. In much
of the cycle Kuzmin allows the lines within the stanzas to vary in length, and the
melodic settings of those lines likewise resist regular, repetitive patterns. This suggests
at the very least that Kuzmin did not compose poems according to predetermined
musical forms, nor did he try to cram his uneven verse lines into even measures. In
some respects this runs counter to Gumilev’s suggestion that the music prompted a
more fluid verse line, unless the idea of music lent itself to a looser and more fluid
approach by Kuzmin. The formal links between song and poem, however, yield no

“Одновременно [со стихами] автором писалась к ним и музыка, и это положило на них
отпечаток какого-то особого торжества и нарядности, доступной только чистым звукам. Стих
льется, как струя густого, душистого и сладкого меда, веришь, что только он – естественная
форма человеческой речи.” Gumilev, “Zhizn’ stikha”, p. 58. Interestingly, in his review of Kuzmin’s
Seti (where the Alexandrian Songs were republished) two years before, Gumilev had opened by calling
Kuzmin “a poet of love, that is, a poet and not a singer. ” (“поэт любви, именно поэт, а не певец”).
“M. Kuzmin. Seti. 1908”, p.14

direct evidence of the influence of music on the written word: if anything, the reverse is
For example, in the most loosely structured poems, the song settings gain some
cohesion through repetition of motifs while the melodic phrases vary wildly in length.
In “Sun, sun” (“Солнце, солнце”), a free-verse poem that Kuzmin divides loosely into
three “stanzas” marked in the settings by their opening figure and melodic fragment,
the stanza lengths stay within reasonable proximity of each other (12, 13, and 12
measures respectively), but the vocal phrases vary from in length from 1.5 measures to
5 measures.
More unstable still are the three stanzas of “Sweet it is to die” (“Сладко

Table 4.1 - Divisions of "Сладко умереть"

lines of poetry musical measures melodic phrases
stanza 1 9 17 8
stanza 2 9 16 7
stanza 3 19 32 16

The literary text gains structural cohesion through its opening words, which
repeat verbatim in the first two stanzas: “Sweet it is to die…” The prolonged opening
of the third stanza, “But it is even sweeter, even wiser…”, previsions the likewise
prolonged third stanza, whose subject is a lyrical and slow farewell to life in contrast to
the brief and efficiently described deaths of the first two stanzas.

Kuzmin does not divide these stanzas with extra spacing, but each coincides with a single sentence.

In the music Kuzmin maintains the structural repetition through time signature,
opening each stanza in a 3/4 meter that yields to 2/4 after the incantory opening is
completed. The first two stanzas repeat this opening identically in both the melody and
the accompaniment, but the third stanza departs significantly: rather than with the
opening hint of d minor, the third stanza begins in D major; rather than echoing the
gradually descending melodic fragment from the first two openings, the third opening’s
melody gradually moves upwards. The effect of skewed repetition is less pronounced
than in the poem, but with the gain of a greater change of mood.
Likewise the closing fragment of each stanza finds a mirrored effect in the
musical setting. While the first two stanzas end with a farewell from the narrator’s
cohort according to the formulaic “farewell hero/father” (“прощай герой/отец”), the
final stanza ends in peaceful solitude (with the otherwise key word “farewell”
appearing in the negative midway through the stanza: “hearing no farewells” [“не
слыша никаких прощаний”]). In the song setting, the first two farewells are set to a
authentic cadence created by a C# major to F# major progression. The third stanza’s
closing is much less sure: the final three chords are all incomplete, relying on tones in
previous measures to suggest their quality: an F#-C# fifth without a third (an A appears
in the previous stanza, suggesting a complete f# minor triad) leads to a B-D without a
fifth, cadencing on a E-B without a third. Whether this indeterminate quality of the
closing successfully echoes the calm ease of the poem’s ending is a question best left to
the individual listener: however its significant difference from the harmonically sure
cadences of the previous stanzas certainly emphasizes its contrast within the context of
this song.

Far less coherent is the chaos of “What can be done” (“Что ж делать”), whose
time signature varies wildly before settling into a 6/8 in the second half. Kuzmin
changes the time signature ten times in the first half of the song, sometimes alternating
after only a single measure, as well as changing the key signature midway through.
Fragments in the melody or accompaniment reappear in the course of the song, but
without a strong sense of linkage or overall scheme. In a sense Kuzmin translated the
unpredictability of free verse into this song setting, although without the semantic unity
that the poem’s words provide the music seems to drift without a clear sense of
Because the melodies are often at the service of the lyrics, a closer look at the
melodies themselves offers insight into the poems’ intonational patterns. A striking
example of this is “Evening dusk”, a rare poem in the cycle for its use of accentual
The lines are of variable length, but each contains exactly four accented
syllables. Despite such a regular duple accentual pattern, Kuzmin nonetheless chooses
to squeeze his verse lines into a triple meter (3/4) in the song setting, splitting the four
stresses equally between two measures. This leaves two beats in the poetry to be set
against three beats in the music.
In the song setting Kuzmin detaches the first two lines of the poem as a brief
introduction: the mixed meter (3/4 alternates with 2/4) plus a harmonic
indeterminateness combine to create a sense of vagueness appropriate to the scene
description: “Evening dusk over the warm sea / Lighthouse fires on the darkening

Specifically four-beat accentual verse. Panova, p. 357
“Вечерний сумрак над теплым морем, / Огни маяков на потемневшем небе”

Then the body of the song begins. For the bulk of the setting, Kuzmin divides
each poetic line into two measures, and each measure into a regular rhythmic pattern:
all syllables coming before the second stressed syllable are relegated to the first beat,
the second stressed syllable gets an entire beat (or more) to itself, and whatever is left
falls into the final beat. The resulting effect is of a drawn-out, emphasized second
stress regardless of the line length. Compare the shortest and longest lines (“храма
Юноны” and “продавцы фиалок, гра[нат]”) in terms of their location against the
measures’ beats:

Table 4.2 - Syllable apportioning in "Вечерний сумрак"

First beat

Second beat Third beat
хра-ма Ю- -но- -ны
про-дав-цы фи- -а- -лок, гра-

This pattern becomes especially foregrounded in the lines with a more cluttered
first beat, allowing the solo stressed syllable in the second beat a more striking
contrast. Kuzmin allows twelve measures for the repetition of this rhythmic pattern.
However, even the more ambiguous introductory measures reflect a similar conceit:
though divided differently, the second and fourth stressed syllable of each line is
assigned a longer value and more dominant stress than the surrounding syllables. (e.g.
Ве-чер-ний | су- | -мрак над / теп-лым | мо- | -рем)
Does this kind of rhythm belong strictly to the musical setting, or does it add
something to our understanding of the text itself? If the latter, does it add something
to the text that is not intrinsic in the words alone, or does it refocus our attention on a
quality of the text that might otherwise escape notice?

In both cases the latter: Kuzmin’s rhythmic strategy in the song setting is a
reflection of the textual strategy already present but not necessarily immediately
noticeable. Though the poem appears as four-beat accentual verse, the added emphasis
on the second and fourth stresses echoes the dominant semantic value of those words.
If we divide the four stressed words from each poetic line according to deemphasized
and emphasized stresses, we get
Table 4.3 - Division of material by stress position

The stressed column consists entirely of nouns. The list of words de-stressed
by their lesser emphasis in the song text includes a mix of nouns and other parts of
speech, and among the nouns are often the less evocative pairs of noun combinations
(for example, in “запах вербены” Kuzmin emphasizes the verbena over the more
neutral word “scent”). Therefore the melodic line closely recreates what would be the
proper intonational stress pattern of a semantic-sensitive reading of the poem.
Kuzmin’s setting is not only receptive to the words’ meanings, but draws out and
emphasizes their placement in the text.
The concluding lines of the poem deviate somewhat from the pattern, stretched
into seven molto meno mosso measures. But they also contain a mystery that may
support the notion that Kuzmin worked on both word and music in tandem rather than
de-emphasized (stresses 1 and 3):

emphasized (stresses 2 and 4):
вечерний, теплым
огни, потемневшим
запах, при
свежее, долгих
прогулки, весеннего
крики, купающихся
священные, храма
продавцы, гранат
сумрак, морем
маяков, небе
вербены, пира
утро, бдений
аллеях, сада
смех, женщин
павлины, Юноны
фиалок, лимонов

at an interval: a small change in the song setting drastically alters the difference of
mood between the poem and the song. In both Seti and the song’s appearance in
Wings, the narrator brings the list of imagery to a close with a triumphantly expressed
hypothetical: “doves are cooing, the sun is shining, if/when I see you again, my native
As Panova has noted, this ending encapsulates Kuzmin’s poetics of surprise:
the narrator has in fact not been witnessing in real time the described cityscape, a
realization underscored by the unexpected shift in verb tense.

The song however disturbs the triumphantalism of the poem by breaking up the
line and transforming the final phrase into a question: “doves are cooing, the sun is
shining. When will I see you again, my native city?”
Instead of an assertion that the
narrator will see his native city again, the song ends with on a note of uncertain
nostalgia. The musical setting illustrates the uncertainty rather than the triumph: in one
of the song’s cycles most astute musical moments, Kuzmin not only sets the final
words against an unexpected harmonic leap downwards (a full tritone – the furthest
distance harmonically possible between two chord roots), but he lands the final stress
on a flattened seventh, lending the last vocal measure the kind of “blue” yearning
associated with African American music in the United States.

“…воркуют голубы, светит солнце, когда увижу тебя родимый город!”

For example, see Panova, p. 357

“…воркуют голубы, светит солнце! Когда ж увижу тебя родимый город?”


Figure 4.1 - conclusion of "Вечерний сумрак" (mm 25-32)

This makes the song’s appearance in Wings, and the narrator’s description of it,
somewhat confusing. Only in these final measures does Kuzmin use the kind of “deep
chords” that the narrator describes, and while they may not evoke a “a thick fog” à la
Debussy, they are certainly in the service of the more uncertain variant rather than the
triumphant one. In effect Kuzmin used one version of the poem in the text of Wings,
but described the musical setting to the other version.
While this could have been a simple error of typography, the two variants
remain in all editions of the novel and poetic cycle. The effect in the novel is
especially striking because of the disjuncture between the transcribed words and the
description of the song’s effect, even more so because they occur at a key moment in
the hero’s development: the confused young Vanya hears the song during his first visit
to the home of his future lover, Stroop. In essence, the trajectory from triumphant
transcription and muted description reverses the trajectory of the novel, which passes
from the uncertainty of Vanya’s childhood to the exhilaration of his acceptance and
maturity, symbolized by his final decision to become Stroop’s lover.

Formal Tensions

So far this discussion of the interaction between musical and poetic form has
operated under the assumption that the two are placed in a cooperative relationship.
However Kuzmin recognizes that a rift exists between the two media; in fact he
approaches the media boundaries of The Alexandrian Songs with something of a self-
conscious wink: the opening lines of the literary text begin with an invocation of music
(“Like a mother’s song...”). Meanwhile as the opening piece of the musical cycle he
chose the poem that most relies on visual imagery (“Evening dusk…”), while the
opening piece to the second half of the song cycle invokes the power of the word
(“When they say to me ‘Alexandria’…”). As noted in the introduction to this chapter,
the section of poems labeled “Canopic songs” yields no songs at all.
Likewise Kuzmin occasionally uses his song settings to poke fun at imitative
music, usually the most direct linkage between word and sound. For example, when
the narrator of “When they say to me ‘Alexandria’” evokes the sound of flutes, the
piano accompaniment inexplicably begins to imitate drums:

Figure 4.2 - “Когда мне говорят ‘Александрия’” mm 9-11

“and I hear the sounds of distant flutes” (“и слышу звуки далеких флейт”)


Rather than take advantage of the words’ invocation of sound, Kuzmin
sometimes sets out to break the linkage entirely.
In his use of motifs that appear in more than one poem/song, the text and music
operate with complete independence: literary motifs find no consistent musical setting,
while musical motifs carry no noticeable semantic value. For example, the words
“[grey] eyes” (“[серые] глаза”) represent a dominant motif which stretches over a
dozen times through the poetic cycle, as well as a major image in the novel Wings. As
a genderless synecdoche representing the narrator’s object of desire, they participate in
the ambiguity that marks Kuzmin’s verse with a certain sexual fluidity.
their prevalence in the texts, these eyes appear only three times in the songs, and each
time differently: the first in “Evening dusk” as a wavering melody, the second in
“When I saw you the first time” (“Когда я первый раз встретил”) in a melody
ascending stepwise, and the third in “There were four of them that month” as a melody
descending stepwise. The semantic unity has been undercut by the phrases’ dissimilar
musical settings:

See Panova’s discussion, p. 369


Figure 4.3 - two settings of "глаза"
“Когда мне говорят‘Александрия’” mm 35-36 and
“Когда я тебя первый раз встретил” mm 16-17

Likewise, musical fragments that repeat across song boundaries are not bound
by any thematic consistency, even though they lend themselves to a feeling of stylistic
consistency in the cycle. One such figure is a descending triplet made up of one eighth
note, one dotted eighth, and one sixteenth – in each case the first note descends
stepwise to the second, followed by a downward leap to the third. Its uniqueness is
underscored by the fact that this rhythmic pattern appears nowhere else in the cycle
except with the same melodic shape.
In “Sweet it is to die” it accompanies the
words “завтра за[был бы]” in a phrase noting that the narrator would forget the object
of his desire tomorrow. In “What can be done” it appears against “[дру]гому
ве[ликому]” and again in the following “[лю]бовь и всю [нежность]”. In “I asked
sages far and wide” (“Я спрашивал мудрецов вселенной”) it supports “[дру]гие для
[смерти]”, the response of the sages to the question of life’s meaning.

By “rhythmic pattern”, I include all appearances of the figure in which the first note coincides with
the downbeat.


Figure 4.4 - two examples of the descending triplet figure
“Сладко умереть” mm 42-43 and “Что ж делать” mm 31-32

The repetition of the figure in different songs lends itself to a feeling of stylistic
coherence in Kuzmin’s music, even though it is not linked concretely to any consistent
meaning: in the realm of motifs, the text and music are operating independently of one
The significance of this independence is that it undercuts the primacy of the
written word: while certain aspects of the settings suggest that Kuzmin subordinated
the music to the text, this disjunction between types of motivic repetition suggests
greater tension between the two arts.
The tension between literary form and musical form is most strongly felt in “If I
were” (“Если б я был”), a five-stanza poem built on structural repetition, but whose
variations differ in location according to the art form.
Because variations can act as
signifiers of meaning, the differing locations of these variations result in two works
whose impact is dramatically different.
The literary text of the poem follows a standard pattern in each of its five
stanzas: the narrator begins with a hypothetical conditional statement (“If I were [an

Appendix C contains the full text of the poem.

ancient general]”)
, then develops that hypothetical into a vision of a future that
situates him in some superfluous state (“I would become [more glorious] than everyone
in Egypt”)
However, not all the stanzas carry equal weight. Unlike in the first four
hypothetical situations, the narrator finds true happiness in the fifth (“I would become
happier than everyone in Egypt”), which is paradoxically the most miserable of the
possible situations. Rather than a Pharaoh or a god, the narrator envisions becoming
the “least slave” (“рабом последним”) of his beloved, but finds superlative happiness
in the mere glimpse of a thread of her (his?) sandals.
Why does this stanza necessarily carry the poem’s meaning? There are two
formal aspects of the poem that encourage this reading: the stanza’s placement at the
end of the poem, and the use of an unexpected variation that sets it apart from the rest
of the stanzas. In each of the first four situations, the superlative state follows naturally
from a hypothetical positive: wisdom, power, or wealth leads to greatest wisdom,
greatest power, or greatest wealth. In the final stanza, the opening hypothetical is
semantically negative rather than positive, but it nonetheless leads to greatest
happiness; the stanza is marked by irony. The combination of the formal and semantic
qualities of this stanza places extra emphasis on the variation and its role.

Kuzmin mirrors the stanza’s irony in the musical setting. While (most of) the
other stanzas travel from an allegretto hypothetical to a triumphant allegro finish, the

“Если б я был [древним полководцем]”

“стал бы [славнее] всех живущих в Египте”

As Panova has noted, the variation in the final stanza does follow naturally from a steadily
descending progression: the perceived future in each stanza is lower on the social hierarchy than that of
the preceding stanza (p. 367). However, the hypothetical quality that begins the first four stanzas is
always positive, while the final is negative until its potential is revealed in its resolution.

final stanza begins at a slow andante, underscoring the misery of slavery. The andante
stretches throughout the stanza, and the ritardando “и стал бы” prepares the listener
for a likewise slow and melancholic coda. However, after a brief pause for breath, the
music unexpectedly returns to the triumphant allegro, asserting that this is indeed the
happiest of possible situations. Kuzmin has no need to overemphasize the joy of the
final stanza’s coda: it is note-for-note identical to the previous ones, but its now
contrasting tone carries the ironic effect of the lyrics.

Figure 4.5 - “Если б я был”: codas
Comparison of stanzas 1 (mm 13-16) and 5 (mm 58-61)

While this seems an appropriate enough setting to emphasize the poem’s
trajectory and underscore the textual meaning, Kuzmin does something truly baffling
elsewhere: his setting of the third stanza deviates far more dramatically than the final

stanza. While most of the song is in A minor, the third stanza is in Ab major; while the
others lead to a triumphant allegro coda, the third stanza begins and ends in a calm
andantino. The resulting effect is that the middle stanza stands out far more starkly
than the final stanza, effectively undercutting the poem’s trajectory.
If, as we
discussed above, the final stanza’s claim to meaning derives partially from its marked
deviation, then the more pronounced deviation of the third stanza in the musical variant
challenges the final stanza’s claims to meaning.
There are a few ways of reading this. One is aesthetic and poses no challenge
to the textual reading of the poem: a variation in the third appearance prevents a
repetitiveness which might seem tasteless. However, this is often not the case in
Kuzmin’s Alexandrian Songs settings, especially in places where repetition serves
some important thematic purpose. For example, in “There were four of them that
month” the final line of each of its five stanzas is set identically in order to underscore
the identical rejection of each of the narrator’s potential suitors. The actual object of
the narrator’s desire receives a similar setting, with only a Picardy third on the final
cadence to highlight his “favor” with the singer.
Further evidence that repetition does not bother Kuzmin is found in the musical
opening to “If I were”, in which a steadily descending figure is repeated four times
before the fifth stanza deviates entirely, a perhaps small-scale rendering of the literary
poem’s structure. Therefore an argument based on bending the otherwise rigid form
of the poem to the dictates of a musical taste seems here unwarranted. The coda to
third stanza remains especially problematic: even presupposing a composer unwilling

Herb Eagle has pointed out that the third stanza already carries significant variation from the poem’s
overarching pattern in both intonational complexity and theme. Significantly, both the third and fifth
stanzas deal with love, a quality absent from the other three. (personal correspondence)

to begin each stanza in the same key, the Ab major coda in the third stanza of “If I
were” poses significant questions, especially with an eye towards the identical settings
of all five coda sections in “There were four of them that month”.

Figure 4.6 - “Если б я был”, coda to stanza 3 (mm 34-37)

Another reading is that the song variant is calling the listener’s attention to
something differently than the text; in effect, the music is eliciting a different reading
of the poem than the text alone. For this a closer reading of the text of the third stanza
is necessary:
“If I were a second Antinous,” begins the narrator in a stanza devoted to
beauty as a form of power. Antinous was the lover of Hadrian, a shepherd boy whom
the Emperor “acquired” on a campaign in Turkey, and who became his close
companion. When Antinous drowned unexpectedly, Hadrian was so overcome with
grief that he declared Antinous divine, erecting temples to him for a sect that long
outlived the emperor himself. Antinous, the symbol of male beauty and a classical
referent for same-sex attraction, is an important figure in Kuzmin’s early artistic
production. This tendency to view Antinous explicitly as a marker of same-sex

There are also minor differences in the piano accompaniment during the fourth stanza’s coda.
Because it is otherwise identical in key, tempo, and general rhythmic profile, its differences are not
significant enough to create a marked effect.

attraction is so strong that the cycle’s first English translator, Michael Green, made the
connection direct: he rendered “я бы всех сводил с ума красотою” as “I would drive
all men crazy with my beauty”.

Kuzmin had a strong identification with Antinous: after the publication of
these works, Kuzmin began taking part in the Hafiz circle (“Друзья Гафизa”, or
, a group of artists who emulated classical culture and practiced openly
homosexual behavior while taking nicknames from antiquity. Kuzmin’s pseudonym
with the group was Antinous. For those who knew Kuzmin, this foregrounding of
Antinous in the song would have evoked an immediate connection with the author.
While such a blatant conflation of the author with the symbol of ultimate beauty might
strike the reader as narcissistic, Denisoff has noted that narcissism is a strong
component in the way Kuzmin’s homosexual characters construct their identity as
In Wings, for example, Vanya frequently examines his physical
beauty in front of a mirror, and must eventually accept and come to terms with his own
beauty in order also to come to terms with his sexual desires. Thus the early audiences
of the Alexandrian Songs, which Kuzmin performed with readings of Wings, would
have heard a song in which the fictional narrator was positioning himself
hypothetically with the real-life author.
Further evidence of Kuzmin’s use of music to highlight authorial connections
not immediate inherent in the text is found in his setting to “There were four of them

Green, p. 339

Bogomolov, “Peterburgskie gafizisty” pp. 67-98

Denisoff, p. 254. Denisoff also cites Irena Paperno’s discussion in Studies in the Life and Works of
Mixail Kuzmin.

that month”, a five stanza poem describing the (female) narrator’s rejection of potential
suitors and love for a man uninterested in her. The stanzas are unequal in length, with
the shorter first stanza acting as an introduction, and the final deviating from the
pattern to describe the object of her desire. Despite an identical coda that runs through
all five stanzas, the third stanza (that of the second failed suitor) deviates from the rest
in its tempo. While the rest of the song is set con moto, the section describing the
second suitor begins with an andantino opening that further reduces to a meno mosso
in the fifth measure. This places the second failed suitor in a more dramatically
marked position than even the object of the narrator’s desire.
This stanza in question describes a poet, who dedicates to the narrator “thirty
elegies, famous even as far as Rome” (“тридцать элегий известных даже до Риме”).
While the narrator has no reason to identify with this poet, whom she rejects for not
being the one she loves, the author himself draws undue attention to the poet’s stanza,
perhaps in a sense of camaraderie. Otherwise the strange foregrounding of this stanza
makes little musical sense.
Even without these direct authorial connections, which might not have been
known by listeners or readers not within Kuzmin’s immediate circle, the naming of
Antinous in “If I were” is especially important when considered against the network of
associations in the texts. Antinous appears throughout Wings as the key symbolic
figure, even though he often lurks in the background of the text, alluded to without
being named directly.
Most importantly near the novel’s climax, the canon Mori
reads the history of Antinous to Vanya, and in their discussion Antinous becomes a

For example, the image of a “drowned man” appears twice in the story, the first time under the
suggestion of drowning oneself because of beauty. Kuzmin reverses the Antinous myth by having the
drowned boy in Part 2 of the novel appear as a loathsome, decayed corpse.

symbol fusing the notion of male beauty, immortality of the form Beauty (in the
Platonic sense), the amoral nature of same-sex feelings, and the resolution and
reconciliation of these ideas with religious belief.
Antinous appears only one other time in the poetic text of The Alexandrian
Songs, although as an unnamed figure: the narrator of “Three times I saw him” (“Три
раза я его видел”) describes the death of Antinous and his subsequent elevation to
godhood without naming him explicitly. As the narrator witnesses the drowned
Antinous’ body being recovered from the river, the poem returns to its key erotic
synecdoche, the final evocation of “eyes” in Kuzmin’s cycle:
The body fished out from the water
lay on the sand,
and that same unearthly face,
the face of a sorcerer,
stared with eyes unclosed.

“Three times I saw him” is also the most directly homoerotic of the poems in
the cycle, since it marks the only time that the narrator and the object of desire are both
male. In the end, possibly due to its length, “Three times I saw him” was not among
the poems chosen for musical setting. Therefore the reference to Antinous in “If I
were” is the closest that any of the songs comes to a direct statement of the homoerotic
theme made more explicitly in Wings.
The particular setting of the Antinous stanza reinforces this reading. Despite
beginning with the same melodic line, each stanza of the song is distinguished by a

Вытащенное из воды тело
лежало на песке,
и то же неземное лицо,
лицо колдуна,
глядело незакрытыми глазами.

unique figure in the accompaniment, a nod to the tradition of changing-backgrounds
variation. The first stanza begins over a tremolo figure, the second with leaping thirds,
and the fourth against an echoed melody doubled in octaves. The Antinous stanza
unfolds over a rolling triplet arpeggio; although Kuzmin often complicates the
relationship between word and imitative music, it is not difficult to hear this
accompaniment in tandem with his description of Antinous in “Three times I saw him”:
suddenly I heard the sound of strumming,…
he was sitting alone,
running his slender fingers over the strings of a lyre

This interpretation of the musical figure may be idiosyncratic, but it is
undeniable that the privileging of Antinous in the text not only calls to mind the
complex network of associations that stretches through the novel and poetic cycle, but
also contradicts the general trajectory of this specific poem. The listener is caught
between two different works with two different messages, a sort of Bakhtinian
polyphony in which multiple authors rather than characters compete on equal ground,
although here the multiple authors – poet and composer – are in fact the same person.
This uncomfortable juxtaposition of the works also plays an important role in
the novel Wings, with the intrusion of the Alexandrian Songs at a key moment in the
main character’s development. The turning point of the novel occurs when its young
protagonist Vanya visits the apartment of his future lover Stroop for the first time.
There he will find a witty, intelligent salon community whose views on classical
culture, beauty, and same-sex love will eventually help Vanya fashion his self-identity

вдруг я услышал звуки струн,...
он сидел один,
перебирая тонкими пальцами струны лиры

as a young homosexual. But the first hint of Vanya’s new life comes at the moment he
steps into the apartment and hears an unknown male voice singing in another room.
Intrigued, Vanya steps into the adjoining room to hear the song, which Kuzmin
transcribes in its entirety: “Evening dusk” from the Alexandrian Songs.
The significance of the doorway to Stroop’s as an important developmental
threshold for Vanya, as well as the key intrusion of the songs at that moment, has not
been lost on commentators. In his study of colonial tropes in Kuzmin from the
perspective of queer sexuality, Denis Denisoff notes,
Within the liminal space signified by ‘the piano’s sonorous chords veil[ing] the
voice’s yearning phrases as in a mist’, the multiplicity of identities offered in
the orientalist Alexandrian Songs penetrate the hero’s consciousness. He then
crosses the threshold into the bachelor’s drawing room, choosing an identity
that, while culturally constructed, offers the best fit for what he feels are his
innate sensual desires.

Denisoff here implies that the insertion of one song from the cycle is enough to
trigger the novel’s readers into accepting the whole of the Alexandrian Songs into the
discourse. Because the earliest appearances of all three works – the novel, the poems,
and the songs – involved public readings and performances within drawing-room
circles, this contention is well warranted.
In effect, Kuzmin’s use of word and music involves less a grand plan for unity
à la Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk, and more an interlocking network of motifs and
allusions that resist full unification. This resistance perhaps further distanced Kuzmin
from the aesthetic plans of the dominant cultural landscape around him, in which a
Wagner-centered discourse promised a synthetic unity with the goal of mystical

Denisoff, p. 257

However, Wagnerian synthesis was not the only possible venue for
modernist discourse in early 20
century poetry: Nietzsche had long since described
the opposite pull in modernism – decentralization and atomization – as “decadent”.

The eclectic, fragmentary nature of Kuzmin’s poetic universe represented a strong
strain of this atomization in Russian literature that found expression in works as diverse
as Rozanov’s anti-autobiographies and the disjoint prose of Bely’s Symphonies.
This in some sense rescues the music, as well. The fragmentary nature of the
poetic cycle finds appropriate expression in a musical strategy as eclectic as Kuzmin’s:
the jarring effect of changing meters and key signatures serves as a musical expression
of eclecticism. Kuzmin’s lack of experience as a composer might explain his inability
to follow through on this eclecticism in a fully satisfying way (compare Debussy’s
preludes “The Interrupted Serenade” or “Minstrels”), but the results are nonetheless
striking. This is further foregrounded by the relative conservativism of his later music.
Chimes of Love, a narrative song-cycle that eschews eclecticism in favor of a unified,
albeit abstract, world, finds its musical expression in an almost Mozartian style of strict
Whatever the case, in the Alexandrian Songs Kuzmin had created a unique
poetic space for his synthetic antiquity, whose poetry ultimately elevated it in esteem
above either the novel or accompanying music. This elevation, which reflects the
superior quality of the verse over the prose or musical accompaniments, nonetheless

Such a plan appears in the closing pages of Wings, although not without a hint of satire: the speaker
has already been described by the author as something of a sub-par artist, and his grand ideas for
aesthetic-philosophical-sexual synthesis feel bombastic against the muted coming-of-age drama of the

Nietzsche, “The Case of Wagner”, p. 187

robs the cycle of the rich interplay of themes around which the three works were
constructed. As a result the music has fallen into undeserved obscurity.



“In the beginning, there was music,” wrote Alexander Blok, as the poets and
philosophers of Russia’s Silver Age sought to integrate this worldview into their poetic
projects without recourse to music itself. Meanwhile the composers of the age seemed to
develop less absolute opinions about their medium, which was in part responsible for
their downplayed importance in literary circles.
To some extent the disjoint between Silver Age interest and music and the
production of actual music (and music-related work) by contemporary artists lay in the
difference between a philosophical ideal of music and the reality of music as an art.
While the idea of music as a transcendent phenomenon had a lot of appeal for mystical
and metaphysical theorists, much less appealing was the experience of breaking down a
rhythmic pattern or exploiting the relationships between a sonata’s constituent parts.
Aside from Andrei Bely’s rudimentary efforts, the majority of writers were content to
leave music at arm’s length, building from a long tradition of German and French
philosophy and art.
The gap between the stated expectations of Silver Age poets and the reality of
their relationship to music is well-illustrated by Ivanov’s claim about Scriabin: “Music
for him, as for the mythical Orpheus, was a first principle that moves and organizes the

This is certainly Ivanov’s view of music, albeit the philosophical Music rather
than the art form. While it is possible that Scriabin himself felt this way (he is notoriously
inconsistent in his writing), the evidence seems to suggest otherwise: Scriabin’s first
principle is a purely philosophical one, with the music and poetry merely manifestations
of a larger, more fundamental and abstract idea.
Speaking with the benefit of some distance, Sabaneev was perhaps more correct
in noting that Scriabin’s music was so dependent on its context that the decreasing
interest in his music was understandable: “Perhaps his music is alien to modernity for the
very reason that when severed from his philosophy, it is incomprehensible and
incomplete, while his philosophy suffers from too manifest faults.”
The composer
once seen as the cornerstone of Russian music tumbled out of favor shortly after his
death, leaving no serious disciples and a waning interest in his music.
With even more distance than Sabaneev, we can see the steady return of interest
in Scriabin’s music, thanks to ears that have come to accept even more radical
exploration than the composer would have dreamed. That his harmonic system had
begun to incorporate full twelve-tone chords shortly before his death suggests that
Scriabin was on the verge of breaking through to true atonality, a notion attractive to
listeners already long accustomed to Stravinsky and Schonberg. Scriabin’s harmonic
system and scale derivation still provide major challenges to the analyst, but
groundbreaking work by scholars like Varvara Dernova and James Baker have helped
clear some of the surrounding fog. Taruskin’s analysis of Scriabin’s music through the

“Музыка для него, как для мифического Орфея, была первоначалом, движущим и строящим
мир.” Ivanov, p. 175

Sabaneev, p. 53

lens of his philosophy has also helped lend credibility to a composer long considered a
delusional megalomaniac.
Because the poem is considerably less accomplished as a work of art, the
possibility of a resurgence of interest in Scriabin’s literary experiments remains less
likely. However his writings have shown to be more informative than they initially seem,
in part due to Scriabin’s attempts to encode his philosophy under the surface of the text.
In this dissertation we have seen how Scriabin uses similar organizational principles both
media. The appearance of structural isomorphs supports Marvick’s assertion that
Scriabin’s aesthetic strategy was independent of any specific medium.
In addition, the more transparent organizational structure of the poem has proven
fertile ground for this kind of inquiry. Because Scriabin was transforming an abstract
principle into a medium in which he was less comfortable as an artist, the awkward and
occasionally patchwork quality of the result gives the analyst the opportunity to work
with Scriabin’s developing philosophy at a more immediate level. Though the
philosophy itself may not provide much of interest, it has important implications for the
understanding of his music. As this dissertation has shown, the overarching departure-
return structure that the sonata encodes even within the primary and secondary themes is
more directly communicated in the poem than in the music, where his sophistication as a
composer allows him to mask the more superficial stitches.
This perhaps opens a window for more serious consideration of Scriabin’s
writings, or at least of the formal qualities embedded within them. The Poem of Ecstasy,
as we have seen, may suffer from a superficial poverty of expression, but represents an
interest test case for Scriabin’s developing ideas. Likewise, future study of the two

versions of the Prefatory Act promises insights into Scriabin’s final and most musically
complex works.
Kuzmin as well is enjoying a resurgence of interest in his work, in part because of
the increased availability of texts once difficult to find, and in part because of a growing
interest in queer studies that situates him in a unique historical position: openly gay at the
turn of the century. Very few other writers fit into this company, and even fewer whose
works are still regarded highly for their quality of their art. In addition the dismissive
attitude towards Parnassianism, towards that aspect of Kuzmin’s verse once derided as
minor, is no longer as pervasive as it was during the Silver Age.
Though some of his contemporaries had no patience with the supposed frivolity of
his work, his admirers pointed to the disarming ease of his verse as his major asset.
However, what we have seen with Kuzmin’s music complicates the expectation that his
work as a composer lend a freedom and fluidity to his verse: close analysis suggests that
the music was clearly subordinate on the words. This is not to say that a certain musical
sense, or a certain expectation of musicality, did not play a role in Kuzmin’s developing
poetic style; but evidence of direct impact of compositional philosophy on the poetry is
likely not forthcoming. If anything the reverse is true.
This is somewhat less the case with the later Chimes of Love, whose more
traditional strophic forms and repetitions create a certain set of expectations for the
poetry meant to accompany it. Here Gumilev may be correct in his sense that the music
inspires a fluidity evident in the poems, since the music brings the words into a much
tighter and more controlled structure.

However the looseness of the Alexandrian Songs suggests that Kuzmin entered
into that project as an iconoclast targeting verse forms first, with or without the
accompaniment of music. The music follows suit, mimicking the length and shape of the
verse lines while showing a disregard for conservative song form and occasional lapses in
strictly musical logic. The most important relationship between word and music
becomes a semantic one, with the accompaniment accentuating and occasionally
subverting the expectations of the lyrics. As this dissertation has shown, Kuzmin
developed a complicated set of relationships between the poems and their musical
settings, but the poems remain at the center.
This subordination of music to word, in addition to the already spare and
“frivolous” quality of the music, in part explains the resistance of other Silver Age poets
to recognition of Kuzmin’s contributions. Though Kuzmin exploits the relationships
between the art forms in interesting and occasionally sophisticated ways, his work lacks
the fashionable metaphysics of his contemporaries’. Furthermore, the scandalous nature
of the material provided an easy distraction from discussions about form and structure.
Kuzmin’s musical output, while slim and mostly difficult to find, nonetheless
promises a wealth of study: his early works are littered with songs, dances, and incidental
music that has received very little notice outside the occasional article. The Alexandrian
Songs alone contain a great deal more to be discovered, as do the pieces in the narrative
cycle Chimes of Love. As the interest and availability of resources increase, so does the
likelihood of a complete reassessment of Kuzmin as a composer.

The problems of musico-poetics only complicate our ability to situate these two
artists against the backdrop of Silver Age art and Symbolist poetics. Music represented a
common thread, but their particular approaches to music pushed Kuzmin to the margins
while elevating Scriabin to celebrity. On the other hand, Scriabin was ill-equipped to
meet the heavy philosophical demands of this central place, while Kuzmin achieved
successes as a poet despite his ill fit with prevailing philosophical winds. In the final
assessment, the artists both represent and complicate our understanding of music and
poetry in the Silver Age.
Though this dissertation has dealt with a formal approach to the works of Scriabin
and Kuzmin that cross media boundaries, many other approaches remain. The expansion
of both literary and musical theory into new territories promises an even more rapid
expansion of the possibilities for discourse that spans both arts. In this vein, what Kofi
Agawu calls the “selectively pluralistic” aspect of new musicology offers a challenge to
primarily formal analysis (such as this dissertation) but with the promise of new and
different types of perspectives.
With luck studies like this one will inspire new interest
in these neglected works of Russia’s Silver Age, and with that new interest a new crop of
critical approaches.

Agawu, p. 300



Appendix A

Scriabin’s plan for the “Poème Orgiaque”

This outline was the embryo for the Poem of Ecstasy, reprinted as it appears in Russkie
propilei, v. 6, pp. 183-184. Translation mine.

Orgiastic Poem


1) theme – the sweetness of a dream, winged spirit, desire to create, languor, thirst
for the unknown.
2) flight to the height of active negation, creat[ive work?]
3) elements of depression due to doubt
4) the strength of victorious will
5) man God
6) tranquility in action


1) the spirit surrenders itself to beloved dreams
3) despair suddenly bursts in and overwhelms the spirit
4) protest arises
5) struggle
6) liberation in love and in the realization of unity
7) liberating yearnings blossom
8) man God


5) combining the feeling of protest with the sweetness of the dream
6) the last phase of the battle again liberating in love


1) Man God. Realization of aimlessness and free play; intoxication of freedom;
realization of unity
2) realization of the relativity of phenomena
3) what earlier overwhelmed, now only provokes to action

Appendix B

The Poem of Ecstasy. Full text.

This edition of The Poem of Ecstasy comes from Russkie propilei, v. 6, pp 192-201. The
translation is Faubion Bowers’ and appears in Scriabin: A Biography of the Russian
Composer, v. 2, pp. 131-135. I have made minor formatting changes to accommodate
spacing and visual presentation.

Wingèd with a thirst for life,
Is drawn into flight
On the summits of negation.
There, under the rays of its dream,
Emerges a magical world
Of heavenly forms and feelings
Spirit playing,
Spirit desiring,
Spirit creating all with a dream
Surrenders to the bliss of love.
Mid the risen creations
It dwells in languor,
From the height of inspiration
Calls them to flower,
And drunken with soaring
It is ready to sink into oblivion.
But suddenly…
Trembling presentiments
Of dark rhythm
Break rudely into
This enchanted world,
But only for an instant.
With light increase
Of divine will
It dispels
Frightening phantoms.
And it attained
Only desirèd victory
Over itself.


Spirit playing,
Spirit caressing,
Spirit calling hope of joy
Surrenders to the bliss of love.
Mid the flowers of its creation,
It lingers with a kiss
Over a whole world of titillation
Summons it to ecstasy.
Intoxicating it with breaths
Dazzling it with beauty
It is transported, it tittups,
Dances and whirls;
With a whole range of sensations
It is tormented, wearied.
Ready to sink into oblivion
But again…
From mysterious wombs
The spirit confusèd
A formless host
Of savage terrors
Rises stormily
In menacing waves;
It threatens all to submerge.
Wingèd with a thirst for life,
Is drawn into flight
On the summits of negation.
There, under the rays of its dream
Emerges a magical world
Of heavenly forms and feelings.
Spirit playing,
Spirit suffering,
Spirit creating grief by doubt
Succumbs to love’s torment.
Mid the flowers of its creations
It lingers in torment,
With whole earth shakings.


Calls them to death.
Seized with fear,
It is ready to sink into oblivion
But then…
Bright presentiments
Of shining rhythms
Awake within it.
Sweet moment!
With rays of hope
Radiant again
It burns for life.
And marvelously attained
Is the power
Of divine will.
It pierces
The dark abysses
With glowing glances,
It shouts with rage
And fury…
The battle blazes.
Yawning caverns
Of monster mouths
Flash menacingly
Passionate lightning streaks
Of divine will,
Radiant reflections
Of magical light
Illumine the world.
Spirit, forgetting the belovèd goal,
Drunkenly yields to the struggle.
All enraptured,
Fully delighted
With free
Godlike play
The struggle of love.


In the divine loftiness
Of pure aimlessness,
In combining
Opposing desires
In single awareness,
One love.
Spirit learns
Its divine essence.
It knows that
Which desired struggle;
It desired only
And events
Assembled round
This wish
In harmonious order
Capricious emotion.
Playing, changing
Vibrates the universe
Desirous of victories
It was victorious,
It is triumphant!
And to its belovèd realm,
Joyous, it can return now.
But what darkens
The glorious moment?
It longs for past struggle.
Instantly it feels
Boredom, melancholy, and emptiness.
But with thirst of life

Again it is wingèd
Is drawn into flight
On the summits of negation.
Three, under the rays of its dream
emerges a magical world
Of heavenly forms and feelings.
And tormented by nothing
It can eternally
Surrender to
Favorèd dreaming
But why, O rebellious Spirit,
Again is Thy rest perturbèd?
No disturbing rhythm
Overshadows Thee,
No dreadful phantoms
Only monotony’s
Infecting poison,
The maggot of satiety
Devours feeling
With sickly cry
The universe resounds:
Something else!
The new!
Wearied of pleasure
Worn with pleasure
But not with life,
Spirit lifts into flight
To the kingdoms of grief and suffering.
And in its free return
To the world of dream and of excitement
It comprehended miraculously
The idea of evil’s
Mysterious abysses.
Again the dark caverns
Gape open
Again the mouths threaten to swallow
Again battle,
The girding of will
The wish to conquer all.
Again victory, again intoxication,
And rapture
And satiety.


With this rhythm increasing and frequent
Beats the pulse of stronger life!
O my world, my life,
My blossoming, my ecstasy!
Your moments each by each
I create by negation
Of earlier experience.
I am forever
Again and
Ever again!
More powerful
New torture,
Fresh beatitude.
Delighting in this dance,
Choking in its vortex.
Unmindful of goals
Belovèd aspirations
Spirit surrenders to playful drunkenness.
On powerful wings
It speeds
Into realms of new discovery
Of Ecstasy.
In this endless change,
In this purposeless, godlike flight
Spirit comprehends itself
By the might of will,
Alone, free
Divine play
In the multiplicity of forms:
It knows itself
As the palpitation of life,
The wish to burgeon
In the struggle of love.

Spirit playing


Spirit fluttering
By its enduring longing
Creating Ecstasy
Gives itself up to Love’s thrill
Mid the flowers of its creations
It lives in freedom.
“I summon you to life,
Hidden longings!
You, sunken
In the somber depths
Of creative spirit,
You timid embryos
Of life,
To you bring I
Henceforth, you are free!
Fragment and flower
Each separately
Rise up one against another
Flee to the summits
That in sweetest bliss
You may know your oneness
Annihilated within me!
Rise up one against another,
Strike against me,
Negate yet love!
Turn against me, all peoples and elements,
Horrors lift up your heads,
Try to destroy me,
Caverns of dragons’ mouths
Serpents twist around me
Constrict me and bite me!
When all is risen
Against me,
Then I begin
O waiting world,
Weary world!
You art thirsting to be created


You seek the creator.
Your tenderly sweet sigh,
Has been wafted to me.
I will come.
O world of mine!
With mysterious delights
Of unknown feelings,
With multitudes of dreams and vision,
With inspiration’s flame
With seeking of Truth,
With the forbidden wish
Of divine freedom.
O my belovèd world,
I shall come.
Your dream of me
Is being born
It is I.
Already I am manifest
In mysterious presence
A barely perceptible
Breath of freedom.
A wisp of dream
The wave
Of my being
Has already seized you.
You are quivering already
I am your belovèd freedom,
Thou art my belovèd world!
I will come
To dazzle you
With the marvel
Of enchantment repeated;
I will bring you
The magical thrill
Of scorching love


And unimagined caresses.
Surrender to me in all faith!
I will drown you in oceans of bliss
And belovèd kisses
And great heaving waves
But in our remoteness playing
Only the spray
Envelops you
And you will insanely desire
Something else!
The new!
And then in torrents of flowers
I will lie upon you
With all aromas and scents
I will bask languidly
In this play of fragrance
Now tender, now sharp
In the play of touches,
Now soft, now harsh
And sinking into passion
You will
Again and
Ever again!
Then I will plunge
With a horde of fearsome monsters
With savage torment and terror
I will crawl upon you with verminous
nests of snakes
And will bite and choke you!
And you will want me
More madly, more passionately.
Then I will lie upon you
Under rays of celestial suns
And you will burn with the fires
Of my emotion
The holy
Flames of desire
For the sweetest,


The most forbidden,
Most mysterious.
And all of you is a single wave
Of liberty and joy.
Multiplicity has created you.
Legions of feelings
Have elevated you
O pure desires,
I create you,
This complex unity
This feeling of bliss
Seizing you completely.
I am the instant illumining eternity
I the affirmation.
I am Ecstasy.”
The universe
Is embraced by enveloping flames
Spirit at its summit of being
Endless tides
Of divine power
Of free will
That which menaced
Is now titillation
That which frightened
Is now pleasure.
And the bite of panther or hyena
Is a new caress
And the serpent’s sting
Is but a burning kiss.
And the universe resounds
With joyful cry
I am!

Appendix C

Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy by section

Thematic breaks Line Section Metrical breaks
“static” 1-7 A
Trochaic tetrameter, alternating
masculine and feminine endings
8-11 A
2 trochees with dactylic ending
followed by 2 3-foot anapests
12-17 A
Trochaic tetrameter, all feminine
“dynamic” 18-23 B
Dactylic, variable anacrusis
24-30 B
Dactylic, variable anacrusis
“static,” changes in
specific word choice
without changes in
structure or theme
31-34 A
Exact repetition
Changes in specific word
choice without changes in
structure or theme;
extension of number of
lines, some entirely new,
some variants of original
lines, but concluding with
the same line
35-45 A
Exact repetition of metrical scheme,
extended by 5 lines
“dynamic,” but entirely
different word choice
46-54 B
Dactylic, variable anacrusis
“static,” exact repetition 55-61 A
Exact repetition
Changes in specific word
choice without changes in
structure or theme
62-65 A
Exact repetition
Changes in specific word
choice without changes in
structure or theme
66-71 A
Exact repetition
“dynamic,” same phrase
structure as B
, but same
thematic material as B
open-ended section, no
clear end marker
72-??? B
Dactylic, variable anacrusis
“static,” near-exact
144-150 A
First two lines changed from
trochaic tetrameter to choriambs
(continuation of metrical pattern
from preceding section); otherwise
exact repetition


151-220 Initial continuation of meter from
preceding section, then alternating
meters throughout
First use of second person (154)
First use of first person (185) Two lines of choriambs imbedded
in a larger section of iambs
Preparation for next
section, signaled by word
choice and phrase structure
208-219 (A
) All choriambs, predominantly
dactylic endings
Changes in specific word
choice without changes in
structure or theme
220-224 A
Exact repetition
Changes in specific word
choice; the next section,
while marked separate,
begins with a continuation
of this section’s themes
225-??? A
Exact repetition of opening phrases
First person monologue of
“the soul”; interaction of
all previously used themes
227-349 A
Use of all previous meters
Final line; Я есмь! 369 One foot iamb

Appendix D

Full scansion of the A section of Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy

Жаждой жизнь окрыленный,
Увлекается в полет
На высоты отрицанья,
Там в лучах его мечты
Возникает мир волшебный
Дивных образов и чувств.

Дух играющий,
Дух желающий,
Дух, мечтою все создающий,
Отдается блаженству любви.

Средь возникнувших творений
Он томленьем пребывает,
Высотою вдохновений
Их к расцвету призывает.
И полетом опьяненный
Он готов уж впасть в забвенье

Но внезапно

Appendix E

Full texts of those Alexandrian Songs set to music

Numbers in parentheses indicate the poem’s placement in the poetic cycle. All
translations mine. On occasion the text of the song differs slightly from the text of the
poem. In some cases these are clear typos; in others the meaning is shifted slightly. The
variations are listed in the footnotes.

Book I

1. Вечерний сумрак (I.3)

Вечерний сумрак над теплым морем, Evening dusk over the warm sea
огни маяков на потемневшем небе, lighthouse fires against the darkening sky,
запах вербены при конце пира, the scent of verbena at the end of the feast,
свежее утро после долгих бдений, the fresh morning after long vigils,
прогулка в аллеях весеннего сада, a walk in the alleys of a spring garden,
крики и смех купающихся женщин, shouts and laughter of bathing women,
священные павлины у храма Юноны, sacred peacocks at the temple of Juno,
продавцы фиалок, гранат и лимонов, vendors of violets, pomegranates, and lemons,
воркуют голуби, светит солнце, doves are cooking, the sun is shining
когда увижу тебя, родимый город!
when I will see you again, my native city!

2. Сладко умереть (IV.4)

Сладко умереть Sweet it is to die
на поле битвы on the field of battle
при свисте стрел и копий, under the whistle of arrows and spears,
когда звучит труба when the trumpet sounds
и солнце светит, and the sun shines
в полдень, at noon
умирая для славы отчизны dying for the glory of the fatherland
и слыша вокруг: and hearing all around:
«Прощай, герой!» “Farewell, hero!”
Сладко умереть Sweet it is to die
маститым старцем as a venerable old man
в том же доме, in the very same house,
на той же кровати, on the very same bed,
где родились и умерли деды, where your grandparents were born and died,
окруженным детьми, surrounded by your children
ставшими уже мужами, who have already become men,
и слыша вокруг: and hearing all around:

In the song setting, Kuzmin slightly modifies the last two lines:

воркуют голуби, светит солнце. doves are cooking, the sun is shining!
Когда увижу тебя, родимый город? When I will see you again, my native city?

«Прощай, отец!» “Farewell, father!”
Но еще слаще, But it is still sweeter,
еще мудрее, still wiser,
истративши все именье, having spent up all your estate,
продавши последнюю мельницу having sold your last mill,
для той, for her,
которую завтра забыл бы, whom you would forget tomorrow,
вернувшись having returned
после веселой прогулки after a joyful stroll
в уже проданный дом, to your already-sold home,
поужинать to dine
и, прочитав рассказ Апулея and, reading Apuleius
в сто первый раз, for the hundredth time,
в теплой душистой ванне, in a warm, fragrant bath,
не слыша никаких прощаний, hearing no farewells at all,
открыть себе жилы; to open your veins;
и чтоб в длинное окно у потолка
that, through the long window near the ceiling
пахло левкоями, would be the scent of stock,
светила заря, that the dusk would glow,
и вдалеке были слышны флейты. and that flutes would be heard from the distance.

3. Что ж делать (IV.2)

Что ж делать, What can be done,
что багрянец вечерних облаков if the crimson of evening clouds
на зеленоватом небе, against the greenish sky,
когда слева уж виден месяц when the moon is already seen to the left
и космато-огромная звезда, and the large, shaggy star
предвестница ночи — the harbinger of night —
быстро бледнеет, quickly grows pale,
тает melts
совсем на глазах?
right before one’s eyes?
Что путь по широкой дороге If the path along a narrow road
между деревьев мимо мельниц, between trees, past the mills
бывших когда-то моими, which were once mine
но промененных на запястья тебе, but now are your bracelets,
где мы едем с тобой, where we travel together,
кончается там за поворотом ends there past the bend
хотя б и приветливым even though a friendly
домом home
совсем сейчас? is just beyond?
Что мои стихи, If my verses
дорогие мне, as dear to me

The song lyric reads, “и чтоб в узкое окно у потолка” (“and that, through the narrow window near the

Song lyrics:

предвестница утра — the harbinger of morning —
быстро бледнеют, would quickly grow pale,
тают would melt
совсем на глазах?
right before one’s eyes?

так же как Каллимаку as Callimachus
и всякому другому великому, and each of the greats,
куда я влагаю любовь и всю нежность, where I invest all my love and tenderness
и легкие от богов мысли, and thoughts, light from the gods,
отрада утр моих, the comfort of my mornings,
когда небо ясно when the sky is clear
и в окна пахнет жасмином, and the smell of jasmine through the window,
завтра tomorrow
забудутся, как и все? would be forgotten, as everything will?
Что перестану я видеть If I would cease to see
твое лицо, your face,
слышать твой голос? to hear your voice?
Что выпьется вино, If the wine was drained
улетучатся ароматы and the smells evaporated
и сами дорогие ткани and the expensive fabrics
истлеют decayed
через столетья? over the course of a century?
Разве меньше я стану любить Would I really begin to love
эти милые хрупкие вещи these dear, fragile things less
за их тленность? because they are subject to decay?

4. Я спрашивал (IV.1)

Я спрашивал мудрецов вселенной: I asked the wise men of the world:
«Зачем солнце греет? Why does the sun give warmth?
зачем ветер дует? why does the wind blow?
зачем люди родятся?» why are people born?”

Отвечали мудрецы вселенной: The wise men of the world replied:
— Солнце греет затем, “The sun gives warmth
чтоб созревал хлеб для пищи for grain to grow for food
и чтобы люди от заразы мёрли. and for people to die of disease.
Ветер дует затем, The wind blows
чтоб приводить корабли к пристани дальней to carry boats to distant docks,
и чтоб песком засыпать караваны. and to bury caravans in sand.
Люди родятся затем, People are born
чтоб расстаться с милою жизнью to part with their dear lives
и чтоб от них родились другие для смерти. and to give birth to more people to die.”

«Почему ж боги так все создали?» “Why did the gods create it thus?”
— Потому же, “Because,
почему в тебя вложили желанье in order for you to have the desire
задавать праздные вопросы. to ask useless questions.”

5. Если б я был (II.7)

Если б я был древним полководцем, If I were an ancient general,
покорил бы я Эфиопию и Персов, I would subdue Ethiopia and Persia
свергнул бы я фараона, I would topple the Pharaoh,
построил бы себе пирамиду I would build myself a pyramid
выше Хеопса, Higher than Cheops’

и стал бы And I would become
славнее всех живущих в Египте. More glorious than anyone in Egypt.
Если б я был ловким вором, If I were a nimble thief,
обокрал бы я гробницу Менкаура, I would raid the tomb of Menkaura,
продал бы камни александрийским I would sell the precious stones to
евреям, the Alexandrian Jews,
накупил бы земель и мельниц, I would buy up land and windmills,
и стал бы And I would become
богаче всех живущих в Египте. Richer than anyone in Egypt.
Если б я был вторым Антиноем, If I were a second Antinous,
утопившимся в священном Ниле - He who drowned in the sacred Nile -
я бы всех сводил с ума красотою, I would drive everyone mad with my beauty,
при жизни мне были б They would erect temples to me
воздвигнуты храмы, during my lifetime,
и стал бы And I would become
сильнее всех живущих в Египте. More powerful than anyone in Egypt.

Если б я был мудрецом великим, If I were a great sage,
прожил бы я все свои деньги, I would go through all of my money,
отказался бы от мест и занятий, I would renounce all posts and professions
сторожил бы чужие огороды - I would watch over others’ gardens,
и стал бы And I would become
свободней всех живущих в Египте. Freer than anyone in Egypt.
Если б я был твоим рабом последним, If I were the least of your slaves,
сидел бы я в подземельи I would sit in the dungeon
и видел бы раз в год или два года And once a year or every two years,
золотой узор твоих сандалий, I would see the golden tracery of your sandals
когда ты случайно мимо темниц When you accidentally walk past
проходишь, the prison,
и стал бы And I would become
счастливей всех живущих в Египте. Happier than anyone in Egypt.

6. Солнце, солнце (IV.5)

Солнце, солнце, Sun, sun
божественный Ра-Гелиос, divine Ra-Helios,
тобою веселятся you gladden
сердца царей и героев, the hearts of kings and heroes,
тебе ржут священные кони, to you the sacred horses neigh,
тебе поют гимны в Гелиополе; to you they sing hymns at Heliopolis;
когда ты светишь,
when you shine,
ящерицы выползают на камни lizards crawl out onto the stones
и мальчики идут со смехом and children go with laughter
купаться к Нилу. to bathe in the Nile.
Солнце, солнце, Sun, sun
я — бледный писец, I am a pale writer,
библиотечный затворник, a library recluse,
но я люблю тебя, солнце, не меньше, but I love you, sun, no less
чем загорелый моряк,
than a sunburnt sailor,

The slightly-modified song lyric here makes more immediate sense, considering the lines that follow:
“когда ты греешь” (“when you are giving warmth”)

пахнущий рыбой и соленой водою, who smells of fish and saltwater;
и не меньше, and no less
чем его привычное сердце than his habitual heart
ликует rejoices
при царственном твоем восходе at your royal rising
из океана, from the ocean,
мое трепещет, does my heart tremble
когда твой пыльный, но пламенный луч
when your dusty but fiery ray
скользнет slides
сквозь узкое окно у потолка through the narrow window near the ceiling
на исписанный лист onto a page covered with writing,
и мою тонкую желтоватую руку, and onto my thin, yellowish hand
выводящую киноварью which is tracing with cinnabar
первую букву гимна тебе, the first letter of a hymn to you,
о Ра-Гелиос солнце! O Ra-Helios sun!

Book II

1. Когда мне говорят “Александрия” (I.2)

Когда мне говорят: «Александрия», When they say to me: “Alexandria”,
я вижу белые стены дома, I see the white walls of a home,
небольшой сад с грядкой левкоев, a small garden with a bunch of stock,
бледное солнце осеннего вечера the pallid sun of a fall afternoon,
и слышу звуки далеких флейт. and I hear the sound of distant flutes.

Когда мне говорят: «Александрия», When they say to me: “Alexandria”,
я вижу звезды над стихающим городом, I see stars above the calm city,
пьяных матросов в темных кварталах, drunken sailors in unlit quarters
танцовщицу, пляшущую «осу», a dancer, dancing the “wasp”,
и слышу звук тамбурина и крики ссоры. and I hear the sound of tambourines and shouts
of fighting.

Когда мне говорят: «Александрия», When they say to me: “Alexandria”,
я вижу бледно-багровый закат над I see the pale-crimson sunset over
зеленым морем, the green sea,
мохнатые мигающие звезды the shaggy, twinkling stars
и светлые серые глаза под густыми бровями, and bright grey eyes under thick brows
которые я вижу и тогда, which I see even
когда не говорят мне: «Александрия!» when they don’t say to me: “Alexandria!”

2. Когда утром выхожу из дома (II.5)

Когда утром выхожу из дома, When I leave my home in the morning,
я думаю, глядя на солнце: I think, looking at the sun:
«Как оно на тебя похоже, “How it is like you,

In what must clearly be a typesetter’s error, the song lyric reads “чем загорелый монах” (“than a
sunburnt monk”)
Another likely error: the song lyric reads “когда твой пышный, но пламенный луч” (“when your
magnificent, but fiery ray”). The “but” renders the phrase somewhat meaningless.

когда ты купаешься в речке when you are bathing in the stream
или смотришь на дальние огороды!»
or gazing over distant vegetable gardens!”
И когда смотрю я в полдень жаркий And at the hot noon, when I gaze
на то же жгучее солнце, on that burning sun,
я думаю про тебя, моя радость: I think of you, my joy:
«Как оно на тебя похоже, “How it is like you,
когда ты едешь по улице людной!» when you travel down the crowded streets!”
И при взгляде на нежные закаты And on seeing the tender sunset
ты же мне на память приходишь, it is you who comes back to my memory,
когда, побледнев от ласк, ты засыпаешь when, pale from caresses, you fall asleep
и закрываешь потемневшие веки. and you close your darkening eyelids.

3. Ты – как у гадателя отрок (II.2)

Ты — как у гадателя отрок: You are like a prophet’s apprentice:
все в моем сердце читаешь, you read everything in my heart,
все мои отгадываешь мысли, you guess all of my ideas,
все мои думы знаешь, you know all of my thoughts
но знанье твое тут не велико but your knowledge is not so much,
и не много слов тут и нужно, and not many words are needed,
тут не надо ни зеркала, ни жаровни: nor are mirrors or torches needed:
в моем сердце, мыслях и думах in my heart, my ideas and my thoughts
все одно звучит разными голосами: everything cries together in different tongues:
«люблю тебя, люблю тебя навеки!» “I love you, I love you eternally!”

4. Когда я тебя первый раз встретил (II.1)

Когда я тебя в первый раз встретил, The first time I met you,
не помнит бедная память: my poor memory does not recall:
утром ли то было, днем ли, maybe it was morning, maybe daytime,
вечером, или позднею ночью. afternoon, or late at night.
Только помню бледноватые щеки, I only recall the pale cheeks,
серые глаза под темными бровями the grey eyes under dark brows,
и синий ворот у смуглой шеи, the blue collar around a swarthy neck
и кажется мне, что я видел это and it seems to me that I saw this
в раннем детстве, from my earliest childhood,
хотя и старше тебя я многим. even though I am much older than you.

5. Нас было четыре сестры (III.1)

Нас было четыре сестры, четыре сестры We were four sisters, and four sisters
нас было, were we,
все мы четыре любили, но все имели all four of us loved, but all of us had
разные «потому что»: our different reasons:
одна любила, потому что так отец с матерью the first loved because father and mother
ей велели, told her to,
другая любила, потому что богат был ее the second loved because her lover
любовник, was rich,

The song lyric provides “дынные огороды” (“melon gardens”) instead.

третья любила, потому что он был the third loved because he was
знаменитый художник, a famous artist,
а я любила, потому что полюбила. and I loved, because I fell in love.

Нас было четыре сестры, четыре сестры We were four sisters, and four sisters
нас было, were we,
все мы четыре желали, но у всех были all three of us desired, but all of us had
разные желанья: different desires:
одна желала воспитывать детей и варить кашу, The first desired to rear children and cook porridge,
другая желала надевать каждый день the second desired to wear a different outfit
новые платья, every day,
третья желала, чтоб все о ней говорили, the third desired that everyone talk about her,
а я желала любить и быть любимой. and I desired to love and to be loved.

Нас было четыре сестры, четыре сестры We were four sisters, and four sisters
нас было, were we,
все мы четыре разлюбили, но все имели we all fell out of love, but all of us had
разные причины: our different reasons:
одна разлюбила, потому что муж ее, the first fell out of love because her husband
умер, died,
другая разлюбила, потому что друг ее the second fell out of love because her lover
разорился, lost everything,
третья разлюбила, потому что художник ее the third fell out of love because the artist
бросил, abandoned her,
а я разлюбила, потому что разлюбила. and I fell out of love because I fell out of love.

Нас было четыре сестры, четыре сестры We were four sisters, and four sisters
нас было, were we,
а может быть, нас было не четыре, а пять? or perhaps we were not four, but five?

6. Их было четверо в этот месяц (III.5)

Подражание П. Луису Imitation of P. Loüys

Их было четверо в этот месяц, There were four of them that month,
но лишь один был тот, кого я любила. but only one was the one that I loved.

Первый совсем для меня разорился, The first ruined himself for me,
посылал каждый час новые подарки he sent me new gifts every hour
и продал последнюю мельницу, чтоб and sold his last miss in order
купить мне запястья, to buy me bracelets,
которые звякали, когда я плясала,— which clinked when I danced,—
закололся, he stabbed himself,
но он не был тот, кого я любила. but he was not the one that I loved.

Второй написал в мою честь тридцать элегий, The second wrote thirty elegies in my honor,
известных даже до Рима, где говорилось, famous even as far as Rome, where it was said
что мои щеки — как утренние зори, that my cheeks were like the daybreak
а косы — как полог ночи, and my hair like the curtains of night,
но он не был тот, кого я любила. but he was not the one that I loved.

Третий, ax третий был так прекрасен, The third, ah, the third was so beautiful
что родная сестра его удушилась косою that his sister strangled herself with her braid
из страха в него влюбиться, from the fear of falling in love with him,

он стоял день и ночь у моего порога, he stood day and night at my threshold
умоляя, чтоб я сказала: «Приди», но я молчала, begging for me to say “Enter”, but I was silent,
потому что он не был тот, кого я любила. because he was not the one that I loved.

Ты же не был богат, не говорил про зори You were not rich, you did not talk of daybreak
и ночи, and night,
не был красив, you were not beautiful,
и когда на празднике Адониса я бросила тебе and when I threw you a carnation at the festival
гвоздику, of Adonis,
посмотрел равнодушно своими светлыми you looked at me indifferently with your bright
глазами, eyes,
но ты был тот, кого я любила. but you were the one that I loved.

Appendix F

Full text of “Three times I saw him”

Три раза я его видел лицом к лицу. Three times I saw him face to face.
В первый раз шел я по саду, The first time I was walking through the garden
посланный за обедом товарищам, sent to get food for my comrades,
и, чтобы сократить дорогу, and in order to shorten the trip,
путь мимо окон дворцового крыла избрал я, I chose a path past the window of a courtyard
вдруг я услышал звуки струн, suddenly I heard the sound of strumming,
и как я был высокого роста, and as I am tall,
без труда увидел в широкое окно I saw him without difficulty through the broad
его: window:
он сидел печально один, he was sitting alone, sadly
перебирая тонкими пальцами, running his slender fingers over the strings
струны лиры of a lyre
а белая собака and a white dog
лежала у ног не ворча, lay silently at his feet,
и только плеск водомета and only the splash of a fountain
мешался с музыкой. mingled with the music.
Почувствовав мой взгляд, Feeling my gaze
он опустил лиру he put down the lyre
и поднял опущенное лицо. and raised his lowered face.
Волшебством показалась мне его красота His beauty seemed like sorcery to me
и его молчанье в пустом покое and his silence in the empty room
полднем! like noontime!
И, крестясь, я побежал в страхе And crossing myself, I ran in fear
прочь от окна... away from the window…
Потом я был на карауле в Лохие Then I was on sentry in Lochias
и стоял в переходе, and I stood in the passageway
ведущем к комнате царского астролога. leading to the chamber of the king’s astrologer.
Луна бросала светлый квадрат на пол, The moon cast a bright square on the floor,
и медные украшения моей обуви, and the copper decorations of my shoes,
когда я проходил светлым местом, whenever I crossed that bright spot,
блестели. gleamed.
Услышав шум шагов, Hearing the noise of footsteps,
я остановился. I stood still.
Из внутренних покоев, From the inner rooms
имея впереди раба с факелом, and with a slave carrying a torch in front,
вышли три человека three people came out
и он между ними. and he among them.
Он был бледен, He was pale,
но мне казалось, but it seemed to me
что комната осветилась that the room was illuminated
не факелом, а его ликом. not by the torch, but by his face.
Проходя, он взглянул на меня Passing by, he glanced at me
и, сказав: «Я тебя видел где-то, приятель», and saying, “I’ve seen you somewhere, friend,”
удалился в помещенье астролога. he withdrew to the astrologer’s lodgings.
Уже его белая одежда давно исчезла His white clothes had long disappeared
и свет от факела, пропал, and the light from the torch was gone,
а я все стоял, не двигаясь и but I stood all the same, neither moving
не дыша, nor breathing
и когда, легши в казарме, and when, lying in the barracks
я почувствовал, I felt

что спящий рядом Марций Martius, who was lying nearby
трогает мою руку обычным движением, touch my hand with the usual motion,
я притворился спящим. I pretended to be asleep.
Потом еще раз вечером мы встретились. Then we met once more in the evening.
Недалеко от походных палаток Кесаря Not far from the Emperor’s field tents
мы купались, we were bathing,
когда услышали крики. when we heard shouts.
Прибежав, мы увидели, что уже поздно. Running, we saw it was already too late.
Вытащенное из воды тело The body fished out from the water
лежало на песке, lay on the sand,
и то же неземное лицо, and that same unearthly face,
лицо колдуна, the face of a sorcerer
глядело незакрытыми глазами. stared with eyes unclosed.
Император издали спешил, The emperor was hurrying from afar,
пораженный горестной вестью, staggering from the sorrowful news,
а я стоял, ничего не видя but I stood, seeing nothing
и не слыша, как слезы, and hearing nothing, as tears,
забытые с детства, forgotten since childhood,
текли по щекам. ran down my cheeks.
Всю ночь я шептал молитвы, All night I whispered prayers
бредил родною Азией, talking deliriously about my native Asia
Никомидией, my Nicomedia,
и голоса ангелов пели: and voices of angels sang:
«Осанна! “Hosanna!
Новый бог A new god
дан людям!» has been given to men!”




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